Reading the birth narratives of the four gospel writers is fascinating. Each writer gives their own account of the Christ event. Matthew wants to assure us of Jesus’ legitimacy.He traces his lineage all the way back to Abraham, (how much more kosher can a man be?) Mark is all action. Within nine verses of chapter one, Jesus has arrived .like a sports star making their first appearance for their new team. Luke also puts Jesus into a contact. One of supernatural events all round. Miracles galore. John is all philosophy. Jesus is the divine logos. The Word before all words. These introductions tell us as much about the Four as they do about Jesus. What they also tell us is a lot about their Christ. Their version of salvation etc.
It is hard to find the “real” Jesus here just as much as it might be today .The central character is swamped by a lot of other people’s needs. The need to legitimise him. The need to show his intellectual pedigree. The necessity of showing him as a man of action who gets his sleeves rolled up from the start. So it is in the counselling relationship. My patients bring me their stories neatly edited for public consumption (which , of course, is also for their private consumption.) A large part of my work is to find the hidden story. No picture has any depth without the interplay of Light and Shade. Spaces and Activity. In the same way that the narratives of the gospels took time to form, so do our narratives. Unlike Athena coming fully formed from Zeus’ head, our narratives take time. And in exactly the same way that our narratives fit a particular version of ourselves, so do the gospel stories. They also tell us a lot about the needs of the writers. Each one crafts a Jesus whom they need to fit their versions of themselves. So when Uncle Fred tells his war story for the thousandth time this Christmas, try to see what he is wanting to tell you about himself rather than worry too much about the historical accuracy of the story.(This is , of course, one of the major problems with having a sacred text. How should we read it? How should we understand it?)
The Birth of Jesus represents a turning point. It also stands as the story of Everyman. Mary is having a baby and babies represent new starts, new hopes, new anxieties. Nothing will be the same again. This infant will call for his parents to grow and change as he does. How they manage this challenge will shape how the baby manages his challenges as he grows up. A similar process takes place in the counsellor’s room. As therapist and patient meet, get to know one another and risk intimacy, so a new life can be born. This life needs nurturing as do the parents.(The question of who cares for the therapist belongs in another piece!) And as with the biblical narratives our work as therapists is to try to understand what lies behind the stories .What am I being told about my patient when they tell me about their marriage? Or their work? Or how they feel about seeing me?
I like the picture in this blog. It conveys a sense of hope without diminishing the struggle. It also conveys a sense of hope – without which nothing is ever achieved. T.S.Eliot in his poem Journey of the Magi, has the Magi asking the question “… were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” It is a question that is often asked in counselling as patients struggle with new understandings of their stories. It is also a question that Christmas in particular raises, with the impossible weight of expectation placed on it-and us. “Is this a Birth or a Death?” The answer may be that it is both.