One evening recently, Janet and I decided to relax and watch a film at home. That was the easy decision. As usual, it got a bit harder when we asked each other, “What would you like to watch?”
We had a few new DVDs to choose from and settled on what looked like a good love story (“fabulously romantic” the cover proclaims) called ‘United Kingdom’ about a black man and a white woman and “a love that shook an empire”. We didn’t read the blurb on the back of the box, but with the lovely Rosamund Pike on the cover we thought were onto a winner.
A winner it proved to be but not quite as we imagined it. ‘United Kingdom’ is a wonderful film based on a true story and set in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But we were watching anything but light entertainment. Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams, the London office worker who falls in love with black student Seretse Kharma, played by David Oyelowo. Seretse turns out to be king of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) which rather complicates their relationship!
They marry in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from both their families and despite attempts by the British government to prevent it. They soon move to Bechuanaland, for Seretse to take up his rightful position as king. But this too is fraught with difficulty and opposition. Seretse’s uncle opposes his being accepted as king. The British government opposes it because Seretse is married to a white woman and in neighbouring South Africa apartheid is raising its ugly head and Britain has economic and political reasons to keep South Africa happy.
What on earth has this got to do with Christmas?
At first glance, the Christmas story can also look like a lovely heart-warming story – a young couple in love on an exciting journey to the man’s home area, some fluffy farm animals and a chubby baby who gets lots of lovely and mysterious visitors. Delightful, unchallenging entertainment.
However, the Christmas story turns out to be about a severe testing, and the ultimate triumph, of love in the most difficult and sometimes brutal circumstances. It too is about a king as yet unrecognised. It too takes place amid the machinations of local politics and of a colonial empire. Like Ruth Williams, Mary is a young inexperienced girl who says ‘yes’ without any real idea of what saying ‘yes’ means, and finds herself thrust from her sheltered life into a story that will cause “the falling and rising of many”.
Our society would like to put Santa Claus at the heart of Christmas and sideline the birth of Jesus to a lovely undemanding story such as we enjoy in many a nativity play. But it’s not entertainment.
So this Christmas let’s enter into the extraordinary tale of Jesus’ birth in a way that’s faithful to the original reality. It won’t be so comfortable but it will surely be inspiring.
Have a great Christmas!