It’s hard for Banksy to dodge Palestinian criticism that his ‘fence art’ and orchestration of a nativity play in the shadow of Bethlehem’s barrier wall, glamourises the oppressive 8 metres tall wall designed to keep terrorists out of Israel, which also makes life even harder for strugging West Bank residents living in its shadow.
But Banksy’s highly political and playful art provokes and evokes subversive biblical memories of the world into which Christ was born 2,000 years ago. A world of Roman occupation, where life was tough and often brutal. Into a dark world of division between the ‘haves & have-nots’, ‘powerful & powerless’, ‘hidden agendas & angels’, ‘foolish & wise’ God shines brightly through the birth of His Son.
While Banksy might like to be everywhere at the one time, inevitably he can’t. He can’t even be with the participants and audience at the ‘alternativity play’. But he can point to The God Who chooses to ‘be with us’, not just ‘for us’. Banksy can intrigue about The Maker and Sustainer of all,
Who shrinks to be held in a mother’s womb and arms, to ‘be with us in our human need and
vulnerability’. He can encourage heads and hearts to turn towards another kingdom and peace-
making world breaking in. The real subversive nature of ‘The Incarnation’, God coming ‘in the flesh’, is the life-transforming truth that God is ‘With Us’ in our joy and sorrow, highs and lows, darkness and depression.
God doesn’t send another director, God comes in person to ‘be with us and for us’. Today’s real ‘alternativity’ is when you and I join Jesus alongside our neighbours in need and allow our neighbours to come alongside us in our times of need.
Banksy’s commissioning of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle & Palestinian Riham Isaac to stage a one-off performance of The Christmas Story, involving local Palestinian children in the car park of his Bethlehem ‘Walled Off Hotel’ is pure genius in my opinion. In last night’s BBC 2 documentary on the Alternativity’s making, local cynicism (from both Israeli & Palestinian) and the risk of patronising people is overcome with sensitive creativity. Boyle seeks the strong Christmas story itself to speak up for the Peace and Barrier-breaking Love Christ was born to bring. The whole ‘Alternativity’ is on BBC 2, Wednesday (20th) at 11pm!
With that all said, parachuting into anywhere with aid, assistance or alternativity and then heading back to the ranch is not the way of ‘Incarnation’. Through Jesus God is born among us and moves into the neighbourhood. He comes alongside to enjoy our company and draw us, and others through us, into the deliverance and delight of His Presence. In ‘Incarnational Ministry’ Sam Wells describes ‘prayer’ as “fundamentally people coming together to enjoy God enjoying them.” Hoping and praying that this will be your Christmas experience!