The nativity story is familiar. So very familiar. More-so than merely as the result of repeated annual exposure… but at a deeper level, as a tale that somehow seems to have echoes throughout every story ever told.
Archetypes are deeply resonant mental images, shared across a collective human unconscious (or so Jung suggested). The nativity story has these in abundance; the virgin, the innocent babe, the wicked king, supernatural messengers, exotic oracles; a prophesy, a journey, a hero of humble beginnings… take your pick! They feel familiar, universal, and sacred. Perfect for high choral hymns, dramatic orchestral compositions, oil paintings, readings delivered by candlelight with thunder and hush, (and the odd Hollywood rendering). And yet the Christmas story is not myth, not mere archetype.
The risk of familiarity is the ability to let the tale recede into a glossy distance. What happens if we bring it a little closer?
What were Mary’s pregnancy cravings? How did she feel about her stretch marks? What did the stable smell like? Did the straw itch? How badly was Joseph freaking out when he realised the baby was coming RIGHT NOW and it was over to him? Did Mary’s labour groans (grunts? bellows?) disturb the neighbours? How did they cut the cord? Did Jesus cry with that horrible, soul-tugging newborn shriek? Did he latch onto the breast right away? Was the water she washed her blood-caked skin with, freezing cold?
How does it feel to bring the story back to it’s real, profane setting? Awkward? Intriguing? Transgressive?
Perhaps this is the miracle….. the archetype writing itself into actual time, place, people… the sacred tearing a hole in the order of the universe and inserting itself, forcefully, passionately (with blood, pain, tears, and a newborn’s cry) into the messy, the dirty, the human.
The sacred and the profane: are we brave enough to let the two meet? What happens if we let the mythic beauty of the Christmas story (of the Christ-mas child himself!) touch our own everyday life… become part of the smell, the touch, the taste of it (… part of the piles of nappies, the tepid cups of tea, the late night blue-glow of our screens)?
If the story becomes part of us, do we also become part of the story?
There is a joy in discovering the echoes of this archetypal tale in the world around us. There is a deeper challenge in allowing it to enter our own lives, to break into the everyday profanity of working, parenting, living. An ongoing, disruptive, transgressive miracle.
Are you ready? Scared? Excited? It all starts with a familiar story…
- SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand
[PUBLISHED FIRST in December 2016 on: https://themarinade2016.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/the-uncomfortable-profanity-of-the-nativity/. Republished with permission.]