The Nativity Story’s Christmas card tableau evokes every nativity performance we have ever seen. But there is no triteness, sentimentality or forced piety in it because we have met this couple in the grimy reality of their village, in the crowded streets of Jerusalem and on the rocky paths to Bethlehem. We know that they are carrying out a difficult assignment, and that their hardest work is still ahead: they have to raise this infant to adulthood. Along with the familiar, The Nativity Story delivers unexpected moments that inform and inspire.
Last fall a friend of mine attended a lecture at the University of Mississippi delivered by Stanley Hauerwas. His talk was followed by an invigorating, hour-long question-and-answer dialogue. My friend reported that afterward he and some students, another minister and several laypeople went to someone’s house and talked about God for another hour or so. How novel.
High calling: When Harris Interactive took its annual poll in 2006 measuring the prestige granted different professions, the top three were firefighters, doctors and nurses. Clergy came in eighth, behind scientists, teachers, military officers and police officers. Ministers have declined in prestige only 1 percentage point since 1977, when the survey began. Firefighters weren’t even included in the survey before 2003 (Calling, Winter).