The Clickbait Nativity: A Christmas Story In 7 Internet Headlines

Facebook / Modern Nativity

None of us are immune to the trick headline. In recent years, clickbait one-liners, promising to reward your curiosity with unbelievable revelations, have practically become the wallpaper of the Internet. Sometimes they offer a simple dose of nostalgia, at other times they prick at our voyeuristic tendencies, but in any case, they rarely deliver on their promises. We curse ourselves for falling for them every time, but that doesn't stop us the next time a link offers to tell us what these 15 self-made millionaires all have in common...

Love them or hate them, they've become one of the most prevalent types of messaging that we receive. So I got to wondering, if they'd been around 2,000 years ago, how might the clickbait websites of Mary and Joseph's time have reported on their momentous night in Bethlehem? So here's the Christmas story, as advertised by the imagined Internet in zero BC.

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The account of Jesus' arrival in Matthew begins with a genealogy. It's a bit boring and we tend to skip over it, but it does actually tell an incredible story: of one unbroken family line from Abraham all the way to Joseph. (Number 15 is King David, by the way). Jesus doesn't just randomly appear; his arrival is perfectly-timed and specifically located within an unbroken family line which begins when God makes his first agreement with mankind, and ends when Jesus himself fulfils it.

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Despite modern culture's best attempts to sanitise the story, God sends actual angels in to get this job done. Gabriel, who I like to imagine as a swarthy seven-foot salsa dancer, appears to Mary in Luke chapter 1 to give her the world-shaking news that she's about to bear the son of God. And later on, scores of them light up the sky to make the shepherds seriously regret making that last batch of moonshine. This is a supernatural story, not a cosy cultural myth.

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Gabriel's message is – according to Luke 1:29 – "troubling", which feels like something of an understatement coming from a pregnant virgin. In that culture, life as she knew it was potentially about to be ruined. Gone were her dreams of a respectable life and marriage; she was probably immediately imagining herself on the scrapheap as a teenage single parent. Again there's a surprise twist – Gabriel reveals the baby's father is none other than God Almighty, and one would imagine at least that he doesn't scrimp on the child maintenance arrangements.

Cute Baby Born In Stable Will Melt Your Heart

The Baby Jesus (most people's favourite version) probably wasn't actually born in a stable, but – depending on which scholars you believe – a cave, or a room in a crowded family home, or an outbuilding of some sort. There wouldn't actually have been animals mooing along with Mary's labour; these people weren't feral. When Jesus arrives he fulfils hundreds of years' worth of prophecy, and in John 1 we read that he's not just part of God's extended family, he actually IS God. We've probably become so familiar with the whole 'son of God' thing we tend to forget that this breastfeeding, nappy-filling infant has the power to reverse time, teleport to Jupiter or turn King Herod into a cockroach. In some ways it's a shame that his origin story involves none of these things.

Why Telling The Shepherds First Was A National Scandal

After Jesus is born, the very first people to find out about it are a group of shepherds on a hillside nearby. We swallow this without thinking about it because they're key components of the nativity set and probably the easiest costume to make for your child. In fact, telling them first was a hugely political decision on God's part; they would have been dirty, smelly and generally unwanted in populated areas – especially when a newborn baby was around. Their low social standing perfectly signalled the values of the Kingdom Jesus was about to usher in.

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The wise men or 'Magi' mentioned in Matthew 2 weren't Kings at all, but astronomer-slash-astrologers; men who assigned importance to the movements of the stars. In a move which will no doubt outrage all right-thinking Christians, God apparently chooses to actually invade and make use of this mythological system in order to capture the attention of the men, who then visit Jesus and bring him gifts. Does that mean Horoscopes are anything more than a load of nonsense? Of course not – but it's a great reminder that you can never put God in a box.

Where Are They Now? You'll Never Guess Who This Child Star Grew Up To Be!

The Christmas story is significant because it's the moment where as John puts it, the word is made flesh; God gets off his throne and fully enters in to the suffering world he created, making himself entirely vulnerable in the process. But it's just the opening act of the most important and incredible story in the history of the universe: the redemption of mankind through this same child. The baby Jesus grows up to be the radical, revolutionary leader Jesus, who lives a perfect life, and professes ideas so dangerous that they kill him for it. And then he rises from the dead, defeats death once and for all, and opens up the way between God and humanity again. All that from this helpless baby, gurgling away in a manger.

That's maybe how the Internet might have told the story, if Tim Berners-Lee had invented it a couple of millennia earlier. But while clickbait headlines are prone to exaggeration, the incredible thing is that every word above is true. And in 2016 that might be hard to believe, but it's also a pretty good reason to celebrate at the end of a difficult year. Merry Christmas.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.