Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Christmas present

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Japanese Mary and Jesus

Japanese Mary and Jesus

Happy Christmas one and all, God bless!

It’s now evening on the feast of St Stephen, the second day of Christmas, and, being a Sunday this year, the end of a long run of Christmas services. This Japanese picture of Mary and Jesus was my Christmas card picture this year. Being interested in the history of Christianity in Asia, I was looking for a similar image to last year’s card.

Through Advent, we’ve been reading Matthew’s gospel, and the quotation from Isaiah 7.14 in Matthew 1.23 has remained with me. In multilingual versions:

הִנֵּה הֳעַלְמָה הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ עִמָּנוּ אֵֽל׃

ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ. ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.

ܕܗܳܐ ܒܬܽܘܠܬܴ̇ܐ ܬ݂ܶܒܛܰܢ ܘܬ݂ܺܐܠܰܕ݂ ܒ̇ܪܳܐ܇
ܘܢܶܩܪܽܘܢ ܫܡܶܗ ܥܰܡܰܢܽܘܐܺܝܠ ܕܡܶܬ݁ܬܱ݁ܪܓܱ݁ܡ݂ ܥܰܡܰܢ ܐܰܠܳܗܰܢ.

See, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us’.

There are debates about the differences between the Hebrew ‘almâ ‘young woman’ and the Greek parthénos ‘virgin’, without realising that they are functionally the same. More importantly, the overlaps of translation leave us in that uncertain place we often find ourselves where we make the choice between faith and doubt.

However, the meaning of that name Emmanuel (spelling it Immanuel is just a bit of Reformation empty, cocky cleverness) speaks to me of the deep meanings of incarnation, of God becoming one of us. Recently I was teaching on Syriac prepositions, and discussing the particular ‘with’ in the ‘God is with us’ of Emmanuel. It’s not just ‘with’, but also ‘beside’, ‘along side’, ‘walking with’ — it’s a very personal and relational sense of ‘with’. So often, Emmanuel is interpreted simply as divine proximity, but this is more, this is God’s total involvement, immersion in the rises and falls of our little lives.

The Nativity Story

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary in The Nativity Story.

In the run up to Christmas, I have watched two tellings of the Nativity on the telly. First of all was The Nativity Story, starring the mesmerising Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary. Here is a clip of her being interviewed about her role, pondering about the thought of being mother of the Son of God, and how no one could ever be worthy but by God’s grace.Last week, BBC showed the wonderful four-part series The Nativity, written by Tony Jordan, erstwhile writer for the soap EastEnders, with Tatiana Maslany as Mary. I was so moved that it had me in floods of tears at several points. I believe it was important that it focused on the difficulties and gossip surrounding Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, having the women of Nazareth’s marketplace throwing vegetables at her, and the people of Bethlehem not wanting that ‘shameful whore’ under their roofs. It was interesting that, even after being visited by the angel Gabriel in a dream, Joseph remained doubtful of Mary right up to the moment of Jesus’ birth.

BBC The Nativity

Tatiana Maslany and Andrew Buchan as Mary and Joseph in The Nativity.

In a subplot, the series focused on Thomas the shepherd of Bethlehem, whose wife was seriously ill after childbirth, and who was being squeezed for extortionate taxes (although 5 denarii a week seem a little too extortionate for a shepherd) to the point that he was ready to take up a sword against his Roman oppressors. When Gabriel comes to call Thomas and the other shepherds to the stable, and later in the stable, Thomas is addressed specifically, that the coming of the Messiah is for ‘such as you’. Thus, we are left with a spiritual message that is also deeply political. In the New Year, the poor will be squeezed as Thomas was in the series, and many more will find themselves poor, education and even healthcare will be increasingly treated as a privilege. In times such as this, the message of Emmanuel, the God who walks with us through life’s trials, should inhabit and instruct our every word and action.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

One thought on “Christmas present

  1. …alma(sp)=soul=alma(russian)=name for Neanderthal=
    alma(Hebrew=Tepeua)=tl/al-ma/na(letra)=tlalmana(Nauatl)=tlalli/land flow/mana=manna(Bible=Pipil=
    people).
    par-then/os(gk)=pal/r-th/ten-tli(letra)=
    pal tentli(Nauatl)=by the lip, how atena/athena
    was born. parthenogenisis is thought to be through
    the forehead of Zeus, but more importantly were
    his lips which drank the honeywater=nequatl(N)=
    nectar of mother mayauel metis=metl(N)=maguey plant and rope=nawa(Japanese)deity, first tea/thea of wisdom.
    iman/imman(Nawatl)=it is the hour/moment.
    immanyotl(N)=propicious moment.
    immanti(N)=to be the hour.

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