‘THIS is ridiculous!’ commented my very first onlooker about my sculpture. ‘It’s like a Tracey Emin bed, only it’s much, much worse!’ This man wasn’t a happy chappy. In fact he was outraged. he didn’t like how the baby Jesus was placed amongst piles of rubbish. The next lady who came along to give her art critique shook her head and tut-tuttered at the sight. ‘What a shame,’ she said remorsefully. She looked at me and asked, ‘Who could have dumped all this rubbish around this holy Christmas scene?’
I explained that I had been the perpetrator and furthermore I had done it on purpose. She looked somewhat shocked, and then asked me why. I pointed to a clue among the rubbish where a sign simply stated, ‘God became a man.’
She took a step back and looked long and hard at the scene. Then she declared, ‘Oh, I get it! Jesus sorts out all the rubbish in the world, so to speak.’ I nodded and she carried on looking at the unsettling scene.
My sculpture of rubbish provoked some strong reactions, but it was fascinating when I encouraged my two volunteers to retreat with me to a nearby bench and to simply observe how people engaged with my avantgarde scene. Soon groups of people gathered around to see what it was. Others stopped and then helped themselves to a booklet about the first Christmas story.
I reckon that during that cold Sunday morning around 40 people took one and started to read the Bible story of the Word becoming flesh to live among us. Some put the booklets back on discovering the Bible story, others carried on reading while walking down the street.
This non-direct approach to gospel-sharing worked a treat. The painful, disturbing scene of a baby in a wooden manger among piles of rubbish spoke volumes. Occasionally I pitched in and gave some explanation, but for the most part people were happy to work it out for themselves.
As we prayerfully watched, tucking into our croissants and sipping our coffee, we saw people walking away from the scene mouthing in surprise, ‘God became a man?!’
The Revd Chris Duffett is an evangelist and vice-president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain