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BBC1’s Nativity

Like thousands of others I have found myself gripped this week by Tony Jordan’s brilliantly written ‘Nativity’ on BBC1.  Much has been written elsewhere about Jordan’s profound experiences whilst writing it, so I won’t repeat them here. What follows are merely a few observations as I reflect on the Nativity experience.

Image: BBC

Pervasive politics

Many of the characters in the story are caught up in the political backdrop against which Jesus’ birth took place. Thomas, the impoverished shepherd, is thinking about taking up arms. Mad king Herod feels his fragile pedestal rocking beneath him. Even Nicolaus, the urbane courtier, is dancing a political jig. This is as it should be – for where there are people there are politics.

Power of lurve

The aching, tortuous path of Mary and Joseph’s love twists like a great river through the canyon of Jordan’s script. At times it all but disappears, and yet we are on our seats waiting for its return. The moment when Mary and Joseph grasp hands in the stable has something of the Sistine Chapel about it. Interestingly, though, it is the ‘power of lurve’ which becomes the touchstone for the authenticity of Mary’s story.

Mystery humanised

There is not a halo or a sparkling light to be seen anywhere in this story apart from the starlight. Gabriel is ordinary and quietly spoken to the point of being barely angelic at all. And yet there is a quiet strength and magnetism to his soft words.  Some will have been disappointed by this, whilst others will be drawn into it.

Scripture vocalised

Unlike Biblical epics of old, the words of Scripture are woven into the script from time to time, rather than providing its backbone.  We find them on Zechariah’s tablet when he writes down Isaiah 7 for his wife’s cousin Mary to read. We find them, too, in surprising places. To hear the word’s of John the Baptist on Melchior’s lips in the stable was something of a surprise for those who know the older script! In context, though – it made perfect sense. And its all about contextualisation really, isn’t it? Note Eugene Peterson’s words in his introduction to The Message:

“The goal…is to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events , the ideas, into the way we actually think and speak. In the midst of doing this work, I realized that this is exactly what I had been doing all my vocational life. For thirty-five years as a pastor I stood at the border between two languages: biblical Greek and everyday English, acting as a translator.”


In the iconographic tradition of the Orthodox church, tears are used as a depiction of the Holy Spirit. If that is the case – then the Spirit surely came whilst I watched the final part of the Nativity – and I am richer for it.

Richard Littledale

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