“You’re engaged, your fiancée is pregnant & you’re not the father. What a Christmas!”
These are the words on a new Christmas billboard outside Adelaide’s Trinity City church, and they’ve caused confusion, amusement and, in some cases, offence.
“We know she’s pregnant from the Holy Spirit, but Joseph doesn’t!” – Chris Jolliffe
Chris Jolliffe, acting senior minister of the church, told Eternity that “we could have done a Christmas ad with bauble or a tame nativity scene. And no one would have looked at it.
“Opportunities to share the gospel at Christmas time come in invitational opportunities to come to church. But we know that less come to church than those asked.
“…our billboard focuses on the scandal.” – Chris Jolliffe
“So we wanted to make the invitation a talking point.”
They have succeeded. Many churchgoers have had the opportunity to explain the Christmas story off the back of the sign, and the accompanying postcards that have been distributed in the neighbourhood.
“The first Christmas was scandalous; it wasn’t polite,” says Jolliffe. “And so our billboard focuses on the scandal, and the whole issue Joseph had to deal with. We wanted to get people thinking about that.”
Why, then, is Joseph depicted with a huge grin on his face?
“Here’s Joseph, a godly man, engaged to be married, and he finds out his fiancée is pregnant. We know she’s pregnant from the Holy Spirit, but Joseph doesn’t! What else could he conclude? No one – up until then – had ever fallen pregnant except through the natural way. And Joseph knew it wasn’t him!”
So why, then, is Joseph depicted with a huge grin on his face? Well, says Jolliffe, “he had a smile because something changed him. An angel came to him in a dream and told him that the child was from the Holy Spirit and will save God’s people from their sins.”
“The kindest thing that could have happened in the circumstances was for Joseph to quietly arrange for their engagement to be legally annulled. In those days, in that culture, Joseph was in his rights to have her publicly stoned to death!
“…if we got people thinking about Jesus and the first [Christmas] story, then that’s good.” – Chris Jolliffe
“That he didn’t [divorce her] was because of God’s intervention.”
The reaction has been bigger than the church thought, with local media picking up the story, after one journalist drove past the sign and wondered what it was about. Some of the older members of the congregation were a bit shocked by the image but, Jolliffe says, “we didn’t deliberately set out to offend people. We thought it would be humorous but not offensive.”
“Even if people have spoken negatively, it creates a reaction. And if we got people thinking about Jesus and the first [Christmas] story, then that’s good.”
Some prayer points to help
Pray that lots of people would see the billboard, and many would think about the scandal of that first Christmas story, and that they would be prompted to find out more.