Monday, December 21, 2015

BookPastor >> "Walking Backwards to Christmas" (Stephen Cottrell)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 26th, 2015.

Have a Blessed Christmas.


TITLE: Walking Backwards to Christmas
AUTHOR: Stephen Cottrell
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (128 pages).

We have all heard of the Christmas story. We watch children perform nice plays on it. We sing carols about it. We see the beautiful Christmas lights and festivities all over town. Many popular images of Christmas include scenes like:
  • The three wise men offering gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus
  • Animals surrounding baby Jesus at a stable
  • Shepherds seeing the bright star that lights up the night sky
  • Joseph and Mary cuddling the little baby
  • and so on..
Many of us are also familiar with the stories of Christmas, the signs in Isaiah, the prophecy of Zechariah, the angel before Mary, and the events leading to the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the time, these are forward movement stories, meaning, they start sometime way back in history and progress to the birth of Christ as the climax. What if we look at a picture and start telling a story backward? What if we let our imaginations fill in the blanks of the biblical story, of how we can uncover the many plots, motives, and the associated responses to the Christmas story? Like some movies that begin with a dramatic finish and then offer viewers a flashback of "Seventy years ago," "Eight months before," or "Seven days back," Stephen Cottrell gives a fascinating first-person storytelling backwards. Without compromising on the biblical information we have, narrating the events and responses of the various movements can be informative and insightful.

Cottrell begins with Anna (Luke 2:36-38) the prophetess waiting for the dawn of light to a different world. He describes the temple scenes and life in society from the eyes of Anna. Rachel is not simply a woman weeping for her children, but a witness of the horrors of the effects of King Herod's murderous decree for the firstborn boys to be killed. Herod is a fearful person, but also a coward. Fearing what he heard from the three travelers from the East, he chooses to kill babies in order to keep his own fears in check. Casper is a character inserted as a boy observing the stars by night, the events in Bethlehem. We see snippets of David's life. We see the labour pains of Mary from the eyes of Martha. Joseph plays the supportive husband who chooses to support Mary in spite of the stigma that could have been tied to him marrying a pregnant woman. Then there is Elizabeth, Mary, Isaiah, and Moses.

Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford, Essex in the United Kingdom. With the success of his novel, The Nail, which talks about the crucifixion, death, and the resurrection of Christ from the perspective of the nail, and various characters on that fateful Friday, what Cottrell has written for Lent then, he is now writing this book for the Christmas occasion. It can be a powerful resource for dramas and plays that highlight the nuances behind the Christmas stories. With the characters all described in detail, readers can gain additional ideas on how to link the plots and the many subplots in the gospel narrative.

While there are lots of imagination and fictional narrative used, there is no need to dismiss this book totally as non-representative of the Christmas story. I find that biblical imagination helps to add colour to enable us to paint the picture better. Cottrell demonstrates creativity and vivid imaginations that can make the biblical story alive. Like movies that sometimes begin with the words, "Based on a true story," and then dramatizes many of the details to make the movie flow well, this book does the same for the Christmas story.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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