Friday, December 18, 2009

The Nativity: Good Romance Transcends the Test of Time


And you SO know I mean this:

That whole Christmas story? The Nativity? O Holy Night???? Step out of the gentility of Luke and examine this story with its constant stream of tension, conflict, anger, disillusionment, angels, babies tracked by evil men of power, oh Mylanta!!!!!

(I LOVE a well-placed angel in a story!!!! Clarence, “It’s a Wonderful Life”???? Too cute!)

All the elements we LOVE in a great romance. I mean my goodness gracious sakes to Betsy, if you remove the element of Godliness for just a moment (Now don’t get your knickers in a bunch, for heaven’s sake, I’m just doing it for a minute… Consider it a classroom exercise.)

… And examine the story as told…

Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber together couldn’t have done it better.

Oh, that God!!!! He’s a smart one, isn’t he??????

Let’s break it down: SECRET BABY!!!

Whoa. Tighten the reins, brother. Hold onto your hats, sister!

Right there they’ve got you because whenever you hear the term ‘secret baby’ you immediately want to know WHY is it a secret baby?
Was the father out of the picture? A scoundrel? Kept in the dark purposely for either the mother’s ulterior motive or her totally unselfish motives?


Whoa again. Pause. Take a breath.

What kind of hunka, hunka burnin’ love does that? Falls in love with a woman carrying someone else’s child, especially if they were romantically involved before. In this case they weren’t only involved, they were engaged. Betrothed. Slated to be wed. Instantly we perceive the hero (Joseph) as caring, empathetic, forgiving, patient and kind. The great beard just adds to his aura, especially if he had a hint of gray at the temples…

Think Gibbs, NCIS. Or Sean Connery. No, just think Gibbs. Those knowing looks, the tiny crinkle to the eye, the slight tilt of his head. Knowing. Caring. Trying his best ,although tortured.


Oh my stars, now that’s a Nora Roberts specialty, but she totally stole the idea from God.

A virgin shall conceive a child who will be of God’s design…

So beautiful in its simplicity and virtuosity.

Now let’s make the virgin a sweet, young woman, pure of heart and soul.
By this point you’ve bonded with the young woman in empathy and sympathy, you’ve all fallen in love with Joseph for his obvious distress that gave way to his overwhelming desire to do the right thing, be the guy that rises to the occasion despite circumstances and the opinions of others.


Guys and gals, every editor worth his or her salt will tell you babies are wonderful assets to romance. Stellar. Marvelous. Total win/win because babies draw people in, they sucker punch with those big, round eyes, their helplessness, their very innocence of being. Oh yeah, adding a baby to your romance??? Never a bad thing. In this case, we not only have a baby, we have Jesus. God. Wonderful, Counselor, the Prince of Peace.

A baby who needs protection from the elements, the animals, a child of the poor sought by men in power, a target of Herod’s anger and pride, a baby whose life would be saved by heavenly intervention, a night messenger who conveys the danger to Mary and Joseph, pushing them to flee to Egypt while so many others lost their baby boys to Herod’s killing swords.

Think of “Willow” … Elora Danan, the baby girl Daikini destined by birth to be queen and hunted by the evil Bavmorda, very Herod-like
Picture Froto, the very unlikely but chosen hero of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Harry Potter, put upon, abused, having no fine demeanor, no great bearing.

Those are a few simplistic examples of how often our fiction parallels the basics of that Holy Night, that Night of Nights, a night of angels, cherubim and seraphim, praising God, heralding shepherds with that first “Noel”, the star shining bright, announcing the birth of a king to those smart enough to read the signs.
We love to cheer the underdog. We cherish a great conflict made right when the elements seem strongly ingrained against success. We laugh, we cry, we run the full gamut of emotions because it matters. The story touches our heart or embraces our souls. In the case of the Nativity, it does both with simple characters who go the distance each and every time despite their misgivings.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…

Mary’s prayer recorded in Luke’s gospel declares her faith, her strength, her willingness to her cousin Elisabeth. Despite the odds, she believes, hangs on, hangs in, takes one for the team. Being Catholic I was raised with the Magnificat (Mary’s canticle of praise when she greets Elisabeth) as her announcement of doing what God asked of her despite the consequences. Such a glorious prayer, so much of it incorporated into hymns we sing today.

You go, girl!!!

We love that in a story. We seek that in our lives, but it’s an elusive goal. We want good to conquer evil, we root for right over might, David over Goliath, and we absolutely, positively need Darth Vader to sacrifice himself to save Luke Skywalker’s life because we know the tiny thread of remaining good within him thwarts the largest evil, the lust for power.

We love romance. We love writing it, reading it, disseminating it, living it. Regardless of denominational ties, we seek the peace and beauty of this story for its true meaning, a God-child offered for the good of all, God made man, God among us, Emmanuel.

God with us, forever and ever.

Silent night, Holy night… All is calm, all is bright.



Ruth Logan Herne said...

Good morning, darlings!

Coffee's here. Chocolate Raspberry for the decadent among us that believe we should use the delightful resources the Lord provides...

(Hey, it makes a handy excuse!)

And regular old 'Joe' for those of us who need a mainline dose.

Merry Christmas! O Holy Night!

I've got a breakfast buffet to satisfy everybody. No time to cook (you understand!!!) so I stopped by Panera Bread and had them package us up a selection of breakfast goodness. Breads, bagels, danish (try some, SO YUM!!!), those handy-dandy souffle thingies with bacon, egg, sausage and cheese.

Help yourself and let's talk some romance!

Have I mentioned I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE romance????



Debra E Marvin said...

Where is everyone?
We've got work to do people. One week till Christmas morning!

Get up! I mean who can sleep at this time of day?

I'm heading for those souffle thingys 'cos I need to balance last night's cookie party with some salt.
(sugar and fat versus salt and fat--keep the diet balanced)

Well, you proved it Ruthy, God loves a good story.

Goal - get to Bethlehem in time to sign up for census and any federal tax refunds allowed.

Motivation - Carpentry work has slowed and some people are no longer frequenting Joseph's shop since he shamed his family

Conflict - 10,000 angels and one giant star announce "this son of God business is real. Your life just got way more complicated!"

Notice the Holy Spirit didn't spend a lot of time on backstory. He's a great editor, eh?

Great tension, fascinating characters. A real page turner--
A real life changer!

Merry Christmas and Happy Eternity to you.

Pepper Basham said...

I'll take your breakfast, Ruthy, and let the rest of my family have these wafflees I'm making ;-)

BEEE-utiful post, Ruthy. He's the best storyteller with all those unexpected plot twists, conflict, and....romance.
The greatest love of all.

Gee, we're blessed, aren't we?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Amen, Sistahs!!!

Deb, totally great synopsis. Since that's one of my many weak spots, lend me your expertise, 'kay???


Hey, girl, SEE YOU MONDAY! Party at Peppers on Monday!!! I'm in!


We are blessed. And why do we forget that so stinkin' often???

I make myself cringe with whining.


Rock on, ladies, and Deb, I agree.



Julie Lessman said...

Ruthy ... I will NEVER look at the Christmas story the same way again. Honey, you just injected the key component to make me sit up and listen and WOW, you opened my eyes even further to what I believe to be one of the greatest stories ever told. THANK YOU for your incredible post this morning ... food for thought, indeed, along with the Panera goodies. Outstanding post ... phenomenonal insight.

I have always believed the greatest romance of all is the passion that God has for each of us, loving us for who we are, saving us when we don't deserve it. What a God ... what a romance!!

And, Deb,love, LOVE your breakdown too, especially the line "Happy Eternity." Amen to that!!


Melanie Dickerson said...

You are so dead on with this post, Ruthy. You can see elements of this story in a lot of classic stories. God was an awesome Creator, and he created lots of great stories. I like to think of him creating each of our stories. Even when we mess it up, he comes in and fixes it. What a great Author. What a Savior.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I should have said, God IS a great Creator.

Romance is my favorite thing. It has to be a truly great writer and great story to reel me in if there's no romance.

And if you don't believe God believes in romance, just read Song of Solomon. Romance is an analogy of God's love for us.

Merry Christmas to all!

Pam Hillman said...

Great parallels, Ruthy. Jesus was the original secret baby! Who woulda thunk it?

There is truly nothing new under the sun.

Gotta go! Talk to y'all later.

Hand me a cup of that Chocolate Raspberry stuff for the road...

Ann said...

Joseph is also a strong, silent man of action. While studying Matthew and Luke with the kids we came to realize ...

Mary spoke in paragraphs ...

Joseph said not a word. But whatever the Lord said to do, he went and did it.

What a guy.

And, another 'wow.' I haven't had souffle from Panera since forever!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ruth, I LOVED this analogy and these comparisons. Excellent!

The chocolate raspberry chocolate is YUMMY.



EC Spurlock said...

Oh, Ruthy! You SO know how to get to the heart of things! It's cold and rainy here in Atlanta today, but you've got the sun shining in my heart. Bless you!

Don't forget another element of romance that comes into the story later on -- redemption. How many of us love to see those bad boys (and girls) redeemed in the end? That Baby went on to do a lot of that -- Matthew, the tax collector putting a little aside for himself, that ultimate bad girl Mary Magdalen, a couple of Roman centurions, not to mention all of us...

Anybody out there ever read How Far To Bethlehem? by Norah Lofts? Great retelling of the Christmas story, following the journeys of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the innkeeper and each of the Wise Men as they journey toward that one climactic Moment. I reread it almost every year at this time, and have lent it out many times also (my MIL loved it too, bless her soul) so that my copy is literally disintegrating by now. Go find it, it's wonderful.

Not partaking of the goodies this morning cuz it's our office party today (and I'm told it's a hum-dinger) but I've brought ginger tea for us coffee-sensitive folks.

Mary Connealy said...

One small part of this magnificent story is:

When Zecheriah is told his elderly wife will bear a child, he questions God...and God strikes him mute until the baby is born.

When Mary is told she will bear a child, she questions words almost identical to Zecheriah's. God blesses her, comforts her, ministers to her.

To me this boils right down the the heart of God and the heart of the Gospel. God is a parent. God knows our hearts. He knows his children so well that He can see the same action but know what's at the heart of it and react in the best way for that particular child.

Isn't this true of all parents? We know our children well and understand if their words come from a place of respect or disrespect, selfishness or fear.

We need to be so careful to always remember our understanding is limited when it comes to God's Word and an example like this helps. Same actions, different reaction from God...because he knows our hearts.

Mary Connealy said...

My last comment was very somber and wise. (It was too, admit it, Ruthy!)

So I will change my tone a bit.

Pepper found The Husband Tree in a bookstore already. She emailed me and also mentioned it yesterday. And she bought it and has read it. For all those of you who have some interest in the book, let me just say on Pepper's behalf.


Andrea Chermak said...

What a great blog for the week before Christmas! Ruth, as always you take the familiar and put your own unique spin on it. Educational, inspirational, and full of wisdom. Not to mention highly entertaining.

I brought cookies for the buffet, like you asked. There's decorated trees and stars, snickerdoodles, and yummy raspberry thumbprint cookies. Pick your favorite, and don't you dare stop at one!

Thanks to all the Seekers who've embraced me even though I only visit occasionally. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and all your New Year's wishes come true.


Pepper Basham said...

LOL...Mary, Mary, Extraordinary
Here I was blaming you for me being late with my exam grades and you're taking up for me.
Love you, lots.
let me just say...again
if you haven't read The Husband Tree -
buy it.
It's a great way to spend a snowy day, sunny day, any day.
Breaks down to the Christmas story too.
Second chances, miracles, and the redeeming transformation of God's love.

Susan Anne Mason said...


Thank you for putting your beautiful words to this post and reminding us all of the true meaning of Christmas.

Well done!

Merry Christmas to everyone at Seekerville!


Myra Johnson said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, Ruthy! And I love what Mary said about how God responded differently but appropriately to similar reactions from Mary and Zechariah. My two daughters have very different personalities, and they didn't always understand why one got one kind of reaction from us when she was disobedient, while the other might have received an entirely different level of consequence.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, my, oh my!!!!

Such a lovely gathering of folks and not one has yelled at me for putting a spin on God's word!

You guys totally rock the big Kahuna!

Julie and Melanie, good morning sweet thangs...

Jules, I KNEW you'd appreciate this. God understands us, understands the thoughts, the warmth, the desires, the normalcy of love.

He invented it, after all. And have you ever watched March of the Penguins, the cool 'courting dance' the males and females do??? Any God that includes romantic attraction among Antarctic dwelling FAT birds that can't fly not only has an appreciation of romance, he's got a rollicking good sense of humor!

And that Song of Solomon...

Where has your lover gone, beautiful one???

Ah, be still my heart at the sound of such wording. :)


I'm sending more coffee for you dearheart. We got your back. Hey, how about one of these raspberry caramel creamers to go with it??? Shoot, take two, they're SMALL!!!


Perfect assessment of Joseph. I cry every time our friend Matt sings Michael Card's "Joseph's Song" during Masses of the Christmas season. The idea of raising God's son... So beautifully brought to mind in the lyrics. The thoughts,the fears, the wonder...

Amazing man. Amazing faith.

Rose said...


Wonderful post!

One year our Pastor's Christmas sermon was on Joseph and how heroic he was during this period of his life. Most people don't even consider the consquences of this situation in Biblical times and Joseph stood by Mary! It put a completely different spin on the Christmas story.

The chocolate raspberry hits the spot today.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cheryl, YAY!!!

Good to see you, darling girl. Blessings coming your way from multiple directions.

EC, glad you brought the tea! Oh my goodness, I neglected the tea drinkers.

What was I thinking????

And I haven't read Norah Lofts' book but I did read Two From Galilee eons ago. It's by Marjorie Holmes and is a wonderful Biblical fiction of the Nativity.





And somewhat making sense. No eggnog yet today, eh, dear one???


Mary, you're right, God alone sees the heart and sees beyond the words to the heart, the thoughts, the real us.

Umm, and can you brag on your NEWEST BOOK "THE HUSBAND TREE" on your own dime???? I mean, hello???

Sh, sheesh, if you can't share with one of the people you love best on the planet, who can you share with???

And I've gotten through several Christmas books, Mary's Cowboy Christmas and Myra's One Imperfect Christmas....

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

I love Christmas stories but I refuse to read them until November...

I save 'em up!

Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

Your post makes me think of the many romantic elements to be found in the Christmas story. I enjoyed your perspective as a romance writer. As a philosopher, I also have a perspective I would like to share.

Philosophically the romance in the Christmas story is the complete reversal of man’s relationship to God.

In the pagan world the gods demanded sacrifices and worship as their due. When the various gods conferred benefits upon humans, it was either capriciously done or only after being ‘bribed’ with adequate sacrifices. The idea that a god loved a human was almost unintelligible -- except in the occasional circumstances when a god actually had carnal relations with a human.

The pagan gods did not care how men treated one another. Ethics was not related to given religions in the pagan world. Religion then was a matter of keeping the gods happy so bad things would not happen to humans.

The Christmas story changed everything. God was giving to humans. God loved humans. God commanded humans to love one another. It was the Christian God who ultimately made a sacrifice of himself to save mankind.

When it is said that “God is Love” or that “Christianity is the religion of love” this is literally true.

The Romance genre is not only about finding the ‘right person’ -- it is also about being the ‘right person’. Consider how often in romances the love equation is balanced on both sides. It is this love of the ‘other’ that brings healing to both partners. In this deep philosophical sense the Romance genre and Christianity are closely allied. Nothing is more logical than Romantic Christian fiction. Even secular romances carry the message of love.

In John 14:2 it reads, “In my Father's house are many mansions”. I believe that some of the best mansion locations are reserved for Christian romance writers.

What a joy to be doing what you love and be doing God’s work at the same time. Praise the Lord.

Bless you all.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Andrea, thanks for the good wishes, cookies and blessings, darling girl!!!

And we love it when you stop in, chat it up with us, and bringing us food...


What's not to love! :)

Thanks for coming by, kiddo. Back at ya' a hundred fold.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Susan, good morning!


Good afternoon! :) Thanks for coming by, playing in Seekerville with us, kiddo. And Merry Christmas right back at ya'!

Noel! Noel!!!!

Born is the king of Israel...

And Rose, bless your heart! I love the thought of Joseph, the courage, the manliness, the warmth the integrity.

Through the hurt. The initial shame and shock and surprise.

Character building, huh???

And Myra, I hate to admit it, but Mary (our Mary, not Mother of Jesus Mary) made a great point. You're right.

If a parent can discern (some of my kids would use the term "FAVOR") the differences in their offspring at mere human levels, how much easier does God read us.

Uh oh.

I've got some 'splainin' to do!


Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, what a wonderful, unique perspective on the Nativity! I enjoyed reading all the great comments too. I'm so grateful for The Gift of Christmas given by God, the Lover of my soul.

Mary, we may kid ourselves but there's no fooling God. Thank goodness He's merciful as well as just.

Merry Christmas!

Project Journal said...

Wow Ruthy! That was such a beautiful post! It makes me feel all Xmasy and ready for the church service on Xmas Eve ; )

THanks for the email back, lol! You're WAY too nice to me : )
I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Vince, you're thoughts are spot on.

Not like that SURPRISES me, Vince, my friend!!!

That's it absolutely. Gone were the days of sacrificing children, animals, crops.

Instead the ultimate sacrifice was of example, God's.

And didn't that just set the stage for so much more? Vince, besides being a dear heart, you are wise and a blessing to all of us. You rock, Dude!


And Janet Dean, well howdy, girlfriend!

I'm in total agreement on the comments, too. Mostly because people are/were nice to me. I LOVE IT when people are nice to me. :)

And Hannah!

You goose. Of course I'd answer you, oh mylanta, why wouldn't I???

Oh, wait.

I'm rich and famous now.

Gag. :)

Hannah, you make my day, girlfriend

Edna said...

Just a beautiful picure, and I am so proud to be called a Christian and a Child of the King, may all have a Merry Christmas


Myra Johnson said...

Hey, Vince, you are a hard person to contact! I tried to comment on your blog and also find an e-mail address for you to let you know how thankful--and actually how utterly blown away--I was by your review of my book!!!! You really made my day!!!

Missy Tippens said...

Ruthy, a secret baby?? Yes! So fun to think of the story this way.:)

Hey, did you ever see The Nativity Story when it was in the the theaters? It's on DVD now. Excellent!!

And Mary, I loved what you said. But then I had to totally crack up when Ruthy told you to push your book on your own dime!!!! Y'all just need to team up for a comedy act. :)

Beth J said...

Great post Ru!

I love Joseph and the amazing sacrifices he makes to take care of Mary & Jesus.

"The Nativity Story" movie that came out in 2006 (and is airing tonight on TNT) does a wonderful job portraying Joseph.

Also, my favorite part of any animated Christmas movie is Linus telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. Love it.

Merry Christmas to all! :-)

Audra Harders said...

Oh Ruthy, how I do love the originals : ) And no wonder secret babies are so popular!

So many classic plot can be found in the Bible with the birth of Jesus being on top. Great, great comparison.

You are such a smart girl : )

Walt M said...


This is fantastic. I've never considered Jesus's birth the way you described it. (Being Catholic, though, I've always had a special place in my heart for this particular heroine. :-) )

Debby Giusti said...

The gospel reading today was from Matthew 1:18-25...about Joseph accepting Mary after learning she was with child. The angel told him, "Be not afraid." Had to reflect on Joseph's strength and love for the Lord.

Thanks for highlighting a beautiful and awesome secret baby story. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Debra E Marvin said...

Of course the soundtrack for the movie version of Ruthy's idea here would have one of those beautiful songs like Breath of Heaven or Mary did You Know? The ones that give you goosebumps.

Ruthy, theres a Marjorie Holmes book called Three from Galilee (I think).
I'm not sure I could have done what Ms. Holmes did, (fictionalize Mary, Joseph and Jesus?) but I loved the book.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh my stars!!!!

Such a fun night last night. I've always wanted to do "Yuletide in the Country" a walking tour of Christmas Past at the Genesee Country Village (an 18th century recreated historic village, SO lovely...) and Seth and Lacey bought us tickets for the tour and the lovely dinner following it. Wonderful to see how celebrations of Christmas changed over the years. Funny and poignant and an amazing view of why things work so well in America because our tolerance is second to none.


Yes, Marjorie did Three from Galilee as well, the book of the older Jesus. The earlier book (Two from Galilee) is the Nativity Story. But I've never read Three from Galilee, so I'll have to get it, check it out.

Beth, hello! Beth is expecting our newest addition to the Herne/Jamison family and we can't wait! Yay, God!

And Audra-kins, it's all in the spin, right, Sweetness???

Music... Yes, Mary Did You Know, Night of Silence... (if you don't know that hymn, google it, so perfectly lovely I'm having it at my funeral even if I die mid-summer. Wonderful, wonderful)

EDNA!!! Merry Christmas you sweet thing!!! Since your shopping is pretty well set, I bet you're spending this weekend baking, tidying, making treats for others????

Thank you so much for coming by, celebrating with us! Hallelujah!

Missy, I've approached Mary about a comedy act but her agent is one tough cookie whereas mine is just the sweetest thang goin' in Christian fiction, don't ya know????


(This could be the beginning of the Wendy/Natasha wars... stay tuned)

And I missed The Nativity Story last night, BUT did see it in theaters because dagnabbit it's so important to support ventures that bring gentle Christianity to viewers. So lovely, so sweet. I remember thinking I'd do it a little differently, more along the "Two From Galilee" mode because that touched my heart.

Ah, Christmas!

Walt, my buddy. :) Ah, yes, all the elements of great fiction bathed in the grace of reality. No wonder we love it! And Mary as a heroine, YES!!!!

And Mary of Magdalen.... Such a soft spot in my heart for those women of the Bible, for the times they lived in.

I'm a big fan of women being treated as equals, people in their own right.

Debster, isn't Joseph just the cutest thing????

And rock-solid. But totally YUM because he went the distance, stayed the course, and God brought him wondrous things.

Love this stuff. Just love it.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I’m glad you liked the review of “One Imperfect Christmas”. (I hope you saw both reviews. The one on my Philosophy Blog and the one on eHarlequin.)

After reading “One Imperfect Christmas” I felt it was better than my ability to review it. How in the world could this be a first book?

I think you are absolutely fearless. I’m reading “Autumn Rains” now and it’s probably the most difficult theme I’ve ever read in a romance: a hero just out of prison, after serving a decade and a half for manslaughter and a heroine who has lost a baby, seen her husband murdered, and who suffers with such a sever case of agoraphobia she can hardly venture out into the back yard!

This would a very hard theme for an author who has written one hundred books. I’m two thirds done with the book and I can’t wait to see how you are going to carry this thing off. (I'm sure you will but I'm still worried.)

I love to see an author take a chance but you’re an absolute daredevil! : )


Kathleen L. said...

Ruth, this brought a tear to me eee. Loovely and thought-provoking, lass.

My husband married me as an unwed mother. The heart of Joseph is a precious thing. After all, "True religion is this, to help the widow and the orphan in their distress. . ."

Vince, loved your thoughts on the romance of God's sacrificial love, and Christian romance writers occupying mansions. . .mmm, that is divine. and I agree-Autumn Rains was gutsy, moving and absolutely redemptive. Myra captures the heart of real Christianity in that sweet book.