A vicar called Paul Eddy has argued, in the Oxford church newspaper, that carol services should be more manly. For there are many men who only get this annual glimpse of church, and they should be challenged in their assumption that religion is a soppy women-and-children thing. He suggests showing a clip from an action film, emphasizing the heroic nature of Jesus’s post-infant life, and keeping the sermon, and indeed the whole service, short.
I sympathise. Church attendance is disproportionately female (the official figure is 59 percent, but it can feel a bit higher). And church culture can feel pretty alienating to younger men. Vicars should bear this in mind all year round, and in particular cut down on soppy music.
But is Christmas a good time for the church to man up? The nativity story features a man, Joseph, whose male pride has been severely hurt, who shows insane trust in his wife’s story of where this baby comes from. This is not the sort of heroism to attract the average bloke. The shepherds are the way forward: these working-class heroes should be depicted doing very manly things like drinking beer. And the angels should be de-girlified, seen as magic soldier-messengers.
And, more seriously, there is scope for emphasizing the cosmic violence of Christ’s birth, its disturbance of the universe. I was made conscious of this by reading Milton’s Nativity Ode. It imagines Christ’s birth as an almighty exorcism of the pagan gods. Osiris ‘feels from Judah’s land / The dreaded infant’s hand…Our Babe, to show his godhead true / Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.’ So maybe nativity plays should try to represent the violent defeat of false religions – in a culturally sensitive way of course. Have a triumphant, yet culturally sensitive, Christmas!