Walking Backwards to Christmas
Using the brilliant, deceptively simple device of telling the Christmas story backwards, Stephen Cottrell helps us encounter it as if for the first time. His approach enables us to get under the skin of a complex narrative, giving insights into its many hours as well as its joys.
We begin by seeing through the eyes of Anna, the prophetess in the Temple, who comes face to face with the dazzling light of the glory of God. The story darkens as we find Rachel weeping for her tiny son, slaughtered by the ferocious decrees of King Herod when he realises the wise men have tricked him. One of these, Caspar, asks on finding the baby Jesus, ‘Was this what the stars had led us to: the heavens themselves come down to earth?’ But a warning dream takes him and his companions far away from Herod’s palace and over the mountains.
The author continues to lead us in reverse chronological order through the angels’ message to the bawdy, awestruck shepherds; the musings of Martha the (so-named) innkeeper’s wife, who is uncharacteristically moved to wonder at the child she helps to deliver; the dreams of fearful, dependable Joseph; the joy of Elizabeth in recognising that her longed-for child will prepare the way for the Christ; and the faithful, strong-willed young Mary, whose delight in nature and in God foreshadows the light of life that will be kindled inside her.
We then enter the dark, calamitous world of Isaiah, who ‘sees all sorts of things he does not readily understand, but faithfully tells them without really knowing what he’s telling, except it is from God’; and finally we step into the wilderness to which Moses has fled. But it is here, through the voice calling out of a burning bush, that the great revelation comes: darkness shall be scattered, and light will forever blaze.
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