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Rapping Christmas gifts

By Terry Joseph
December 21, 2002

It really is high time some enterprising researcher gets The Christmas Story right and spares us these annually unsettling variations, like the one issuing from last Monday's astonishing revelation by a Church of England Bishop.

I mean, there we were, right in the juice of a Trini Christmas, having already bought all but last-minute gifts, only to discover (and from no lesser rank than the bishopric) that the very practice is fundamentally flawed.

With a worldwide congregation already willing to overlook even the most polarised contradictions in biblical accounts of Christmas Eve, Britain's Daily Telegraph this week reported Bishop Keith Sutton's debunking of lowing cattle, carol-singers, caring shepherds and the whole cotton-candy edition of The Christmas Story.

Faithful to his maverick rationale, Bishop Sutton rapped gift-giving, feasting and exchanges of greeting cards and in the same eddy, selected the Three Wise Men for special persecution; he knowing better than most that the trio is universally identified with inauguration of the ritual.

And the bish went even deeper, arguing the Magi were up to no good, fingering them as part of King Herod's conspiracy to assassinate Jesus. According to Bishop Sutton, they were at least spies, sent to determine the whereabouts of the Christ child, paving the way for execution of the innocent.

Bishop Sutton suggests we forget gold, frankincense and myrrh, even in the face of biblical evidence that the Magi aborted their sinister mission after a visitation from God. Yet, he attacks "sentimental Christmas images" and pillories the theory touting "wise men that came bearing the first Christmas presents".

Scoffing at the concept of "a little helpless baby whose mother travelled on a cute donkey to a stable stuffed full of cuddly animals", Bishop Sutton labelled Joseph and Mary as practical people, "refugees seeking asylum in Egypt".

As for shepherds watching their flocks by night, he cavalierly dismisses carriers of the rod and staff as persons "on the fringe of society" and for lagniappe, denounced postcards that portray them as keeping vigil during the birth of Jesus.

Known for his fearless criticism of Britain's handling of asylum seekers, Bishop Sutton, 67, is not afraid of defending his theory; posting this revolutionary take on The Christmas Story on the Litchfield Diocese website.

His argument is not reckless. For openers, the mysterious wise men are mentioned only in one section of one gospel (Matthew 2:1-16), indicating that other writers on this subject either had no information on their movements or deliberately excluded them from history.

Matthew confirms Herod interviewed the three wise men at dusk on Christmas Eve and dispatched them on the mission to find Jesus. The Bible does not supply sinister motives but it is doubtful the King really wanted to know the baby's whereabouts for purpose of worship.

What the Good Book does say is that after divine intervention, the Magi defected and "returned to their own country another way", avoiding a planned second meeting with Herod.

Bishop Sutton surmises that God would not have supplied a star in the east to lead the wise men to Herod before guiding them to Jesus so, he says, it is Satan who set up the celestial sign. Consequently, any celebration of their role in The Christmas Story is a trophy to the devil.

While all of this may make for intense intellectual debate, Bishop Sutton must also know he has completely wrecked the style of celebrating Christmas to which we had become accustomed.

And he is not alone in dismantling staple Christmas beliefs. The Australian Daily Telegraph also this week reported a nationwide controversy over Santa Claus, quoting shopping mall proprietors and childcare associations as finding St Nick "offensive" and "out-dated" as a Christmas icon.

Santa is, of course, widely appreciated as not only a gift to children but himself a courier who brings them toys. His image was, however, banned from several shopping centres and kindergarten schools.

Antagonists deemed the festive philanthropist politically incorrect for religious reasons; saying he was potentially offensive to hard-line Christians, Muslims and other minorities.

Indeed, it took an intervention from Australian Prime Minister John Howard to quell what brewed as a national argument. Describing the ban as "foolish", PM Howard said be believed in Santa when he was a child and Christmas is for children, therefore his government had no intention of imposing a national ban on the fat guy.

So inter-person gift-giving (as per the three wise men) and Santa's trademark generosity both came in for bashing in the same week and from sources tens of thousands of miles apart.

What this does is provide last-minute shoppers like yours truly with an unassailable reason for not purchasing gifts but you, my dear readers, who are predictably more organised and punctual about such matters, may feel free to send the little something you got me before the news broke. And since it is better to give than receive, your efforts shall not go unnoticed.

Happily, no one has yet come up with a reason to disgrace the practice of seasonal salutation, so I am still on holy ground in wishing you "Merry Christmas".

Jesus was asylum seeker, says bishop

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