Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas, You Filthy Animal

Perugino's Nativity
Public Domain
 Truth is stranger than fiction. 

Let’s look at the Nativity story.

Israel? The Jews were religious. A single God was different from Rome. Rome had many gods. 
Rome controlled Israel in a vice.

Our story has two Israelis who fall in love and decide to marry. Joseph and Mary. Maybe there’s no love, just convenience, but they decide to marry anyway. Either way, the story is interesting.

Romance sells. Big.

Here’s a twist. Mary gets pregnant without a man involved. Other stories are similar, like the god Dionysus. But here’s a difference—Joseph and Mary are poor. Not in the public eye. No special powers. Only a promise from visions that their child is the Messiah, the one who will bring salvation to man.

I’m telling you, truth is stranger than fiction.

A carpenter? Did Joseph work with wood, an oh-so-rare commodity only the rich could afford to purchase and shape? Or did he work with stone, a more readily available material for carpenters?

Our tale is difficult. There are so many prerequisites for this Child written in scrolls of old. Tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem, descendant of King David. Details, man. Details!

No inn available, since Joseph is too poor to bribe the innkeeper, so the Child is born in a cave surrounded by foul creatures. Is this an oversight in the story? Too much fiction? I mean, we’re the authors here and looking for believability. We want word to get out about the Messiah. We want our protagonist to look good. Compelling.

Here’s hope! Angels proclaim the Child’s majesty.

Argh! They sang to illiterate shepherds. The sheep probably had a better idea what was going on.

This story is getting out of hand!

The angels sang mighty pretty, though.
Adoration of the Shepherds
Public Domain

The sheep enjoyed the music. And maybe the shepherds understood. Maybe. No one in Israel likes shepherds. Not even the sheep. At least the shepherds went to see what was going on and somehow they were convinced the Child was God.

That’s an interesting twist. Shepherds spreading the news. No one likes shepherds, especially ones claiming a messiah has been born. Stop drinking, shepherds.

Wise men see a star and follow the bright light in the sky.

Name a few odd things people follow. Televangelists pointing to eternal life. Politicians convincing they have answers. The sign to the beach. The sign to the bathroom.

Wise men carried enough gifts so Joseph could actually afford wood. Or maybe a home. At least a bed, surely.

The story needs violence. The king panics because the shepherds start rumors. A messiah. And the wise men make him nervous that his rule is in jeopardy. A messiah. The king kills babies. Lots of babies, in hopes of killing our child.

But stories about killing babies doesn’t sell books. And there's not a lot of Renaissance paintings depicting the deed.

Who makes this stuff up? Who would end this story with Jesus growing into a man and dying for the sins of mankind instead of throwing off the shackles of Rome’s tyranny? Why not end with Joseph and Mary kissing with the promise of a happily ever after? We can all live with a little tyranny in a story, as long as the couple kiss.

Some stories are too important to add believable fiction. A Savior born to a poor and wretched couple on the edge of divorce, a Savior who comes to wash clean the sins of adulterers and murderers and the proud and the beggars. Born filthy to save the filthy. That’s a good story. A true story.

Merry Christmas, you filthy animal. Blessings.

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at


Ane Mulligan said...

Viewed like that, it makes the grace of God even more amazing. Merry Christmas, Peter!!

karendg said...

I just posted on Lisa Hess's sharing of this...thanks! Plus, having just read your little bio blurb, a great "crazy but fun research trip" for families would be to visit JAARS near Charlotte, NC (also home of the Billy Graham library....)--JAARS is the support center for the work of BIble translation carried out by Wycliffe Bible Translators all over the world. Aviation, land and sea transport, IT development and media services, an Alphabet Museum....check it out! There's an "open house" 4 times/year--check it out!

Peter Leavell said...

That's awesome, Karen! Thanks for sharing!