A real nativity play

It is fitting

at a Carol service

to remember

that ballad

written by Gill Bowman

from Bellyeoman Primary

in Dunfermline.


It is called

the School Nativity play

and goes like this:


A wise man opened the curtain too soon

The star in the east fell down with a boom

The innkeeper said ‘There’s plenty of room’

Oh, it all went wrong on the day


Joseph’s wee brother was violently sick,

He nearly choked on his lolly stick

So, I held out Mum’s handbag quick

And it all went wrong on the day


A shepherd made a dash for the loo

The rickety platform split in two

It was just a stage we were going through

In the school nativity play


A spotlight fell and I got the blame

Gabriel’s wings made a pretty blue flame

And we all went home when the firemen came

To the school nativity play


Oh, the donkey sneezed and the stable fell down,

One of the three Kings broke his crown

Primary two were the talk of the town

In the school nativity play.


Nativity plays then

are part and partial

of our own Christmas stories.


They are blessed

with a naivety

that speaks of the child

in all of us

dreaming of trees

and parties

and presents.


They speak of Christmases past

with their myriad of memories.


They speak of a simple faith

that is nice to have

at this time of year



it is too easy to place

in the whole shebang

of stables, shepherds,

donkeys and wise men

in the fairy tale category.


It is too easy

to see it

as little more than

a cute scene

for a sparkly Christmas card.


And, thus,

we dismiss it

as having no deeper message

to us.


For it could be said

we all go home

when reality comes

to the school nativity play.



that forgets the dream.


The dream that has


got people

to be less like people

and more like God

for two thousand years.


The dream that


the world was changed

by that story

from Bethlehem.


The dream indeed

that we ourselves

can and will be changed

by the ultimate truth

behind wee boys in towels

and girls in mum’s old curtains.


For the essence of this story

is that the world

is not made better

by the great,

the successful

and the mighty.


The human experience

is not improved

by the globe’s outstanding thinkers.


Your life and my life

isn’t brought in touch

with transformational love

by the chief executive,

the director

or the government minister.


That is done

by ordinary people

being extraordinary

in the muddle

and trouble of life.


It is done simply

because God is with us

in the muddle

and trouble of life.


Moreover, Christ

is most clearly seen

in the muddle

and trouble

and even rubble of life.


Last year

at our Christingle service,

Ken, Daryl and I

cast the nativity story

into the set

of the latest Star Wars film.


Hopefully it was fun

and entertaining.


Yet some years earlier

I wrote the same narrative

into a real conflict zone.


Since even as we speak,

the UN private jet

is landing amongst

the regime’s fighters

and cargo planes.


The corridor

into the besieged district

will only be open

for less than an hour.


So as the convoy of land-cruisers

speeds through

the dark and rubble

of a once thriving city,

the diplomatic team

know time

is desperately short.


Even before they stop,

the bodyguards are out

with their assault rifles


the graffiti scarred block’s entrance.


The visitors are almost


up the stinking stairwell

and into a freezing room

lit by a single battery lantern.


There, for a moment,

the rush turns to hush

as the grandees

take in the new born child

lying in a Red Cross aid box.


In the gloom,

they sense the unease

of the father;

an older man

in builder’s trousers and fleece.


Yet the young mother

is somehow serene

even as the wind

whistles through

the broken window.


In a moment,

those representatives

of the world’s government

s drop to their knees

and worship.


But it is only for a second,

for an explosion

is heard in the distance,

radios cackle

and the guards

start to push

the panicky civilians

out of the enclosing danger.


A helicopter clatters overhead

with sinister intent.


Suddenly, one diplomat

recovers enough composure

to remember

they have brought a gift –

one of the most precious things

on planet earth.


As he offers it,

the father stares


at the unbelievable treasure.


Since it is none other


a visa for the United States.


Come he says

and bring the saviour

of the world

out of here!


Come he can do

so much good

from safety.


Come this is no place

for a child!


No – says the mother,

he was born here,

he is born for here

and he will stay here.


For this is the place

of this child.

Now for his sake go

and make it safe.


As we return to our world

of cardboard crowns

and plastic cribs,

let us not forget

that other world

of the real nativity play.


Let us not forget

that Christ came

for the muddle

and trouble of life.


Let us not forget

that Christ too

wants to be with us

when we face

life’s muddle and trouble.


Above all,

let this story inspire us

to make our ordinariness



Let this story

transmute us

from wanting to be great

to wanting to be good.


Let this story

permeate our being

so that we to go home


and make

this crazy mixed up world

safe –

safe for every primary two child –

safe indeed

for God to be with us.














Cuban Dreams

Joel 2.28-30a


The death this week of Fidel Castro brought one old crisis back to the surface. And whilst I was too young to realise the danger, history has certainly recorded the grave risks we are all in during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Because, 44 years ago, US reconnaissance photos showed that then Soviet Union was installing nuclear missile sites on that island. President Kennedy sent his Navy to blockade the incoming Russian freighters with the actual weapons. The Soviet fleet was also on hand and the world held its breath. Indeed, government officials in Washington and probably Moscow got up each morning wondering if we would all see evening.


And so, on 24th of October, Pope John 23rd sent a message to the Soviet embassy in Rome to be transmitted to the Kremlin, in which he voiced his concern. In this message, he stated “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace.”


The whole affair culminated in the American ambassador Adlai Stephenson demanding in the UN Security Council for a response from his Russian counterpart. And when Valerian Zorin did not answer – he famously replied – I will wait until hell freezes over!

And it is into this volatile situation came the President’s brother Bobby Kennedy. Since he realised they had received two differing signals from the Kremlin. One was uncompromising and the other was more conciliatory. Which was correct? He advised the American cabinet to reply to the latter and ignore the former. Thus, a compromise was reached, peace was restored and the world breathed again.


Yet what has this to do with dreams and Christmas? Well, it seems that the Kennedys chose to follow the dream and reject the nightmare. They saw the possibility when surrounded by gross negativity. They grasped peace from the jaws of almost unimaginable conflict.


Now I cannot say if the various political decisions made by voters this year will lead us toward another such heart stopping moment. That, we will let the years ahead, take care of. Nevertheless, we do live in time of conflicting opinions, painful divisions and possibly risky brinkmanship. Yet we also live in an era of unparalleled opportunity to start to get this planet’s act together. We live in a time crying out for confident prophetic voices. We do live in a moment for dreaming with our eyes open. Since there is a wise if anonymous quotation that says – some people dream of great accomplishments while others stay awake and do them.



So, this Christmas preparation time, let us keep any eye on the warning signals. But then let us not pull the knot tighter. Since at the deepest point of the Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev send to Kennedy a letter starting:


Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied.


Indeed, to these uncertain times let us respond with Joel-like prophecy. Let us remember to dream better and loosen the knots of conflict. Let us remember we always have a voice – a voice for peace, reason and common-sense.


Since so speaking is the only way to make Christ’s dream happen. It is the only way to turn crises into watersheds. And it is the only way to respond to God’s signal of peace, his light of hope and his promise of a kinder judgement.