Posted by John Porter
This is the most exploitative time of our year. Everyone gladly leaps onto the bandwagon and we cheer each other into debt. The orgy of gift opening on the day is extraordinary. Children rip open expensive toys that leave almost nothing to their imaginations. Within minutes they start to play with the boxes and wrapping paper – to really play. I smile. I think the problem is that our early winter festival is described as a religious festival – to celebrate the birth of Christ. Churches of all descriptions have got it wrong, thanks to Pope Gregory. It was he who sanctioned the inclusion of fertility cults and practices – if you can’t beat them, join us! Ever since we have been left with a Christmess. Jesus was probably born around late September/early October during the Feast of Tabernacles. The three “kings” were most likely Jewish princes of some kind. He was laid in a manger but was not born in a stable with ox and ass around. It is much more likely to have happened in a central courtyard of a large stone inn. Mary’s extended family would not give her any of their rooms as they were convinced she had had sex with Joseph. They were shocked by his denial yet amazed by his ongoing commitment to Mary.
The Twelve Days of Christmas song actually relates to a fertility cult tradition where a leader of a village, for twelve days, could have sex with any woman he wanted – thanks to Pope Gregory’s gracious welcome into the Roman Church! No, I’m not a Roman Catholic! Santa Claus is another twisted tale of a Turkish monk who helped the poor. The red suit and white beard may have been a Coca Cola invention?!
What has this to do with funerals? The clue is in the title of this piece. A public lowly birth. A most public mock-King death. A funeral that never really happened, despite the women being ready to follow the customary rituals after the Sabbath. If the conception of Christ was indeed parthenogenetic then a quick look into Mary’s womb is in order. Let’s imagine that the Biblical record is true. What we have is Mary’s human egg. It had to be otherwise tons of Old Testament prophesies would come a cropper. The bloodline had to be from King David. That’s why it is careless to skip over the genealogies in Matthew and Luke – non Jews just don’t seem to get them. Then the Holy Spirit creates a male sperm and it successfully fertilises Mary’s fully human egg. God and man. If this was the X Files we have an “alien”/human hybrid! Let’s say we accept the virgin birth as a fact – there have been at least six recorded human virgin births – all female. Apart from angels, visions and other amazing things Jesus’ birth was totally normal. The carol line “… no crying he makes” may bring a lump to a parent’s throat as they watch, wet-eyed, their four year-old croaking away under the church Christmas tree, but this is sentimental nonsense. Jesus cried, he produced wee and poo. He needed cleaning, feeding, clothing, cuddling and worrying about.
Anyway let’s go back to Mary’s womb, this time with an eye on the stone-sealed tomb. I doubt that the following verse will be read in churches across the world in the next few weeks: “When Herod realised he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethelhem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” This does not make for a good nativity script! I have been to Bethelhem and cried as I imagined the soldiers coming and wrenching babies and toddlers away from parents. The cries must have haunted families for years after. No funerals. Zoom forward to when Jesus was a boy, his parents having escaped Herod’s death edict and fled with him to Egypt are now back living in Nazareth on a trip to Jerusalem. They marvelled at the words spoken by Simeon, a holy man, about their special boy; and then this devastating line is said by Simeon: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too,” referring to the spear into the side of the dead Christ and Mary’s pain at seeing her boy murdered on the cross – sanctioned by a Roman procurator whose wife had told him “Have nothing to do with this innocent man.”
The cross, not a star, hovers over the manger where a human/divine baby cries.
No wonder that families, who say to a funeral director, “We want a non-religious service” often say a little later “…but we want a bit of God in it!” The story of this baby’s start in life is compelling.
Have a great time during this late December festival.
PS – I have a New Year’s resolution in mind that I would like to do it with a friend. I’ll ask her about it next week – it involves reading an entire library of books!