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.














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