Journey to the Manger by Paula Gooder
One of Paula Gooder’s great gifts is that it can feel as though her books have been written just for you. I now know I’m not the only one who loves nativity plays yet believes that the individual birth narratives should be read and respected for themselves. We can have our Christmas cake and eat it.
This is the book you need to make sense of apparently conflicting Gospel narratives; to guide your thinking about where historical truth might lie; and to help you find your own way towards greater spiritual truths. Yet she achieves this without taking away the magic of traditional (or even untraditional!) nativity plays, by encouraging you to use your own theological imagination to reflect on the mystery of the incarnation. Not just “God made man” but God made fragile and vulnerable: the first born son of a poverty stricken house hold. God seen – and seen as salvation – before he had done anything other than survive the dangers of birth.
You can read this for a master class in scholarship worn lightly – when you need to know the Greek or the Hebrew to fully understand the point she is making, it is there. Or you can read it as a critical study of the birth narratives in Matthew, Luke and John, drawing attention to other passages of Scripture as needed to give context to what is written, and why it may have been written in a particular way.
But I have been using it as a companion: someone to share the doubts, the “what ifs” and, best of all, the moments that take your breath away as familiar scenes are suddenly viewed from a different angle. Paula Gooder deliberately avoids the temptation to say, “this is what happened” in favour of an “I think this, what about you?” approach. And I did give a quiet cheer to discover she also thinks Simeon need not have been an old man!
Don’t save this for Christmas morning: buy and read it now, and the experience of taking a fresh look at the wonder-full accounts of Jesus’ birth as you journey to the manger will be a gift worth having.
Reviewed by Revd Norma Fergusson
Special price of £11.50 in the shop (posted out for free) or buy online for £9.50 + postage until 31st October 2015. RRP £12.99.