Send Joseph out shopping for a pair of turtledoves and give a shepherd a set of bagpipes to tune and suddenly the Nativity story is about real people.
The Christmas story is above all a visual experience. Celebrating, as it does the Christian doctrine of incarnation, the tale needs to be seen, ‘The word made flesh’ - right there in our presence.
The late Middle Ages produced a flowering of visual images especially those related to the Bible. Nowhere is this more visible and invisible than at Norwich Cathedral, where there exists the greatest collection of story bosses in Europe. This paradox of profusion, which needs seeking out, is almost a parable of the Nativity itself. God has generously given of himself and yet the focus of this giving is hidden in an obscure and unlikely setting, that of a manger.
The birth of Christ is the most celebrated of stories and this figures prominently in the nave. Prominent and yet obscure, the bosses cluster above our heads demanding our attention. Like the Christmas story itself the bosses need to be brought into focus. When we, like the wise men of the story, study the heavens we do well to use a telescope. This little meditation on the Christmas story tries to sharpen our perception of what the Nativity is about. By using the bosses and their medieval links with street drama we can gaze again at the central Christian mystery of how angels sang, shepherds searched, wise men journey and a child was born. All this is happening, as it were, before our very eyes.
Each generation makes this story its own. The later Middle Ages have a viewpoint we can share as they locate the story in their own setting. Whether from an artistic, biblical or social premise, these tales hold a fascination for stargazers of every generation. All we need do is look up and note these things which God and 15th century man has made known to us.