An attempt by two distinguished American scholars to get at the heart of what the birth stories mean without getting embroiled in their historical accuracy or the biblical and theological arguments arising within them, beginning with the gospel stories which they see as overtures, parables or stories with meanings rather than history, setting the tone and themes for what is to come.
The context is then explored `within Christianity, within Judaism, within the Roman empire', and against the background of the immediate past and explore with no shortage of detailed information on the ancient world's view of virgin birth and divine conception.
Light (as opposed to darkness) is regarded as an archetypal symbol whose imagery pervades the Old and New Testaments and probably explains why the birth of Jesus taking place on a winter evening in the middle of a dark night. This is not so much historic time as parabolic time, metaphorical time, sacred time and symbolic time.
Predictions (`that it may be fulfilled . . .' ) are not predictions of something to happen in the distant future and certainly not predictions of Jesus. Matthew, for example, is not trying to prove that Jesus was the Messiah nor was he trying to impress or convince `outsiders' but to reflect the convictions of `insiders'.
The value of these stories lies in what mean for us today rather than what meant in origin. We are to understand and relate them to our situation, with an emphasis on joy but joy with conflict, and see advent as a time of anticipation, expectation and repentant preparation but a repentance that has more to do with change than with confessing our sins.
Commended especially to preachers and leaders of worship. It could transform our Christmas services, create new life in the midst of traditional ritual and present the gospel in a way which has meaning for everybody.