In 2010 the BBC released The Nativity, a four part miniseries watched by few in the United States and overshadowed here by the 2008 release of The Nativity Story. Tony Jordan’s BBC account of the Nativity is straightforward enough, but it took some liberties, the most glaring being the timing of the arrival of the Magi and the exclusion of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Jordan could be forgiven for this, however, as his telling of the story is to make a point that these things would distract from and his point is an important one for it teaches us about belief in the most human and real way.
On this last post before the close of Advent, I wish to reflect on Jordan’s belief which is not only the belief that all Christians hold in the salvation of Christ, but in the belief that precedes it…..that a virgin should conceive a child.
Christianity is a scandal. It is the scandal of the cross, but it is one that begins with the scandal of a young woman who is with child and her betrothed is not the father.
All Joseph has is a dream and dreams are not always to be believed. He knows this as well as any man. In Jordan’s account Joseph is no old man believing from the moment he awakes from his dream that he must protect a young woman and her unborn child. For Jordan, Joseph is only the Hebrew male slightly older than the woman to be his wife who is expected to be the father of her children and pass on to his son(s) the family business.
Mary also has her doubts in the BBC miniseries but she comes to believe quickly. Before the birth of her child, she becomes the first to believe in Jesus. Only there remains the question as to if there is anyone to believe in her. There is really only one answer to that question….it is Joseph and only Joseph and all he has is a dream.
I wake up often and tell myself it was only a dream. I may get a little Freudian or Jungian in the matter, but I am hardly ready to be literal about it. Tony Jordan makes Joseph the same way. This may not have been the way Joseph actually had been, but it is a Joseph to whom I can have empathy.
I struggle with belief and come mostly from a place of positive space. Jordan’s Joseph is the same for he has only a dream and a man realizes dreams are not always to be believed. What is to be believed is what happens in the positive and seeable space of life and Joseph’s life is that of being betrothed to a pregnant teenager. All she can do is plead that he believe her and that is a difficult thing given the circumstance.
Mary’s solution is a simple one. She tells Joseph all he has to do is hold her hand. For a long time he will not. Why would he? He has done enough for her already. He could have had her stoned, but instead has opened himself to shame and ridicule jeopardizing not only his reputation, but that of his family only that she may live and birth a child who is not his. That is a lot to gamble on a dream.
Tony Jordan only makes the dream believable to Joseph in the most touching moment in the film. After Joseph has refused to put Mary away and having protected her and her unborn as they traverse the route between Nazareth and Bethlehem, he finds himself at the manger surrounded by lowly animals, an indebted shepherd, and a midwife who has agreed to deliver the infant Jesus. At that moment Joseph, distressed by the pains of Mary’s labor, asks the midwife if he can do anything. She tells him that he can hold her hand. Upon doing this he is flooded with belief.
It may not have happened in this way, but it happened. Joseph believed and he believed not only in the God of his ancestors, but in the woman whom God chose.
It is Christmas, but not quite. We know what happens after Christmas. Hundreds of millions come to believe and the world garners salvation. Great edifices rise up to bear the name of a simple Hebrew girl and millions come to believe in her and they use their hands to grasp at beads asking her intercession. And regardless of how we view Tony Jordan’s take on the matter, there is no doubt it was Joseph who first did this as he held onto the woman who brought us out of Advent and into Christmas.
Image: Holy Family Icon by V. Lukan, Creative Commons