In The First Christmas, Stephen Mitchell brings the Nativity story to vivid life as never before. A narrative that is only sketched out in two Gospels becomes fully realized here with nuanced characters and a setting that reflects the culture of the time. Mitchell has suffused the birth of Jesus with a sense of beauty that will delight and astonish readers.
In this version, we see the world through the eyes of a Whitmanesque ox and a visionary donkey, starry-eyed shepherds, and Zen-like wise men, each of them providing a unique perspective on a scene that is, in Western culture, the central symbol for good tidings of great joy. Rather than superimposing later Christian concepts onto the Annunciation and Nativity scenes, he imagines Mary and Joseph experiencing the angelic message as a young Jewish woman and man living in the year 4 BCE might have experienced it, with terror, dismay, and ultimate acceptance. In this context, their yes becomes an act of great moral courage.
Title: The First Christmas
Author: Stephen Mitchell
Published: November 9, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
My Rating: 4 stars
The First Christmas is a unique retelling of the birth of Jesus, using the traditions of the time and an interesting cast of characters.
Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of varying individuals from Mary’s donkey to the innkeeper to the animals gathered to witness the birth of Christ. What I found unique was the marrying of what I (Christians) know from the scriptures with the actual living conditions of the time, the traditions, the mindset, and what had to be, at times, terrifying to those witnessing these events.
The First Christmas is not a romance, but it is a love story – one that continues to this day and beyond.
I enjoyed the experience and felt it was a totally unique way to bring us into the reality of the world at that time.
*I received an e-ARC of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley. That does not change what I think of this story. It is my choice to leave a review giving my personal opinion about this book.*
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