To use this in a service, dress as a private eye (dark glasses, hat, raincoat with collar pulled up)
Props – screwed up paper and an old pizza box
On the word intriguing – stroke your chin before speaking it
On the word suspicious - look round from side to side before speaking it
In place of Elizabeth use the name of any person in the congregation you want to impress
Rich Gospel Investigates
Rich Gospel was gazing into the distance. To the casual onlooker it might have appeared he was day-dreaming but he was working on a problem. The hours ticked slowly by, which was strange. They usually stayed on the clock.
It was a busy time of year. At the offices of Glad, Tidings, Comfort and Joy – the theological detective agency – the phone had hardly stopped ringing. Every time he answered it, it was the phone.
The waste-paper basket in the corner of Rich's cramped office was surrounded by screwed up paper. An idea abandoned (throw paper); a thought not pursued (throw paper), a dead end (throw paper), a pizza box (throw box). He wished he had a normal detective job where he could say, 'Follow that car' to a taxi driver. Metaphysical problems could only be solved by thinking.
It had all started with a badly-worded piece of publicity literature. 'Paranormal, supernatural and doctrinal investigations,' they'd put on the business cards. And, to be honest, he'd given very few away. Most vicars didn't want help; didn't like to admit there was any funny business going on. But then he started to get the calls and correspondence. From children. Or, more specifically, from their parents.
You see at this time of year many parents are troubled by deep, faith-related questions.
Mummy what's a manger?
Daddy what's a crib?
Mummy can I have a Wii?
Daddy, where does Santa come from?
Wise Mums and Dads know that the answer to question three is not what you think and the answer to all questions about where people come from should be referred to the other parent.
But this letter had Rich in turmoil. As he drove back from turmoil to his office he ran the question through in his mind:
If Jesus' birth was an event so important that even the calendar was changed, why don't Matthew, Mark or Paul mention it?
Chloe Johnson (aged 9)
There was a brief P.S. from Chloe's Mum saying she was a bright child.
Well, thought Rich, scratching his head, if she was a bright child she deserved a proper answer. But how to do that? As he placed a plaster on his scratched head he pondered. Then he wondered. Maybe he should get a badly-behaved dog. Then he'd have a lead to follow.
Rich knew that there were four stories about Jesus' life and death in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And their books had the same name as his surname. Gospel. Which means 'good news.' He also knew that Paul wrote lots of the other books towards the end of the Bible – letters to places with strange names. Very (stroke imaginary beard) intriguing.
So why did only Matthew and Luke mention Jesus' birth? Was this true? Good question. This one needed research. Preparing for this involved a technique honed over many years of lonely enquiry. In the staff kitchen he put the kettle on and and some toast under the grill.
He realised the kitchen equipment was getting a little old as he slurped his toast and crunched on his tea. He took a Bible down from the shelf of the substantial agency library and blew the dust off. He turned to Matthew's Gospel. How did it start? He was amazed. It began with a long list of names. Not Mary and Joseph but Abraham. It said he was Jesus' great, great, great, great (and thirty eight more 'greats') grand-father. What came next? No census. No manger. No shepherds. Just a baby boy and some rich, wise guys passing by with pressies. Very (stroke imaginary beard) intriguing.
He turned to the next book, the half-eaten toast having lost its minimal attraction and the tea cold in his mug. Mark. What would he say?
Nothing. What? Nothing. Chloe was right. Mark began with Jesus as a grown-up. No baby stories at all. 'The beginning of the Gospel...' said Mark. Baptist then bam! Or 'splash' to get technical. Very (look round to left and right) suspicious.
Third up, Luke. 'Yuk' said Rich, taking a slurp on cold toast and eating a slice of tea. 'Make us another cuppa' he called to his secretary, Carol. There was no answer. He opened the door. The building was dark. Everyone else had gone home. As Rich read Luke, the temperature in the office rapidly falling, he found, with some excitement, where most of the Christmas stories come from – not trees, crackers and gift-wrap, but there were angels, Mary, Joseph, mangers, no room in the inn, shepherds. This was the stuff. This was the nativity he remembered from school. An inner-voice said, 'Put a tea-towel on your head, for this is holy ground.' Funny how the other two books hadn't mentioned all this. Very (look round to left and right) suspicious.
So far, three Gospels, three different beginnings. Time for John. Well. What a difference. 'In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.' What? Sounded more like Genesis than John. And what was a 1970s rock band doing writing in the Bible anyway? (Rich couldn't help doing jokes in his head like that. It was a character flaw. He blamed the person who had created him.) First few verses of John's Gospel were about light, dark and glory. Glory. Hmm? Didn't that shine around for the shepherds? Hadn't a star led the wise to Jesus? Hadn't Mark said Jesus had been shining gloriously on a mountain. The ideas were getting joined up. Very (stroke imaginary beard) intriguing.
And so for hours and hours, long into the night, Rich read the four Gospels from beginning to end. He did eventually make some fresh toast and hot tea. He even phoned for pizza but sadly he was out. He also read all Paul's letters. Even the ones that experts said Paul might not have written. Paul never said anything about Jesus' birth. Not a sausage, although, he observed, sausages got little mention either. Very (look round to left and right) suspicious.
One thing was clear. These people had their Old Testament prophets and they reckoned Jesus was the one spoken about by Isaiah and Micah. Depressed that more work was needed he resigned himself to reading the first half of the Bible, now he had read most of the second. And to annoy his mathematical colleagues, it looked like a bigger half. People must have changed the calendar not because of the beginning of Jesus' life but because of the end of it. They were not concerned where Jesus came from. They wanted to know what his life meant.
Rich had the beginning of his reply but he needed rest. So as the sun rose again he dragged his scruffy, dirty body home for a shower and some sleep, his tie loosened round his neck. Walking down the steps of the office he met the paper girl Elizabeth. She was very efficient and invariably polite. He made a mental note to think if he had ever met anyone unpleasant called Elizabeth. He noticed, for the first time, that she wore a small badge in the shape of a fish.
'What's that?' he asked.
'It's an ichthus badge' she said. 'It reminds us of Jesus.'
'And who was Jesus?' asked Rich.
She looked him in the eyes.
'What do you mean, 'Was?''