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God a 'hard act to follow' - billboard

Wednesday 16 Dec 2009 10:24 p.m.

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By Ali Ikram / NZPA

Churches around the country are getting ready for Christmas. For many this might mean a nativity scene with donkeys, wise men and of course, the baby Jesus.

But at Auckland's St Matthew in the City they like to do things differently.

In all the talk of Jesus and Mary and the wise men, everyone forgets poor old Joseph, Mary's husband. Even the donkey gets a bigger part.

But a billboard going up tomorrow will change all that.

On it, Mary and Joseph are in bed. Joseph looks down dejected. Mary looks sad. The caption reads: "Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow."

The sign was commissioned by St Matthews in the City, and is the work of ad agency Saatchis.

"It's playing on those who think of a, god being male and b, impregnating Mary in a very literal way," says Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, "whereas I, and most of the people at St Matthews, don't have that belief at all."

The church wanted to get people beyond the nativity story and think more about the Christian message. Some ideas were rejected because they were too out there – such as a giant glow-in-the-dark sperm cell coming down from the sky.

Others didn't make the cut because they weren't out there enough.

Edgy billboards have become a yuletide tradition at St Matthews in the City, but the Archdeacon says this is the most risqué so far.

Whether you think the placard is a bit of virgin mirth or an unholy disgrace, it gives new meaning to the phrase divine intervention.

"The true importance of Christmas" was in the radical hospitality Jesus offered to the poor, the despised, women, children, and the sick, says Archdeacon Cardy.

"His death was a consequence of the offensive nature of that hospitality and his resurrection a symbolic vindication."

Last week a campaign was started by New Zealand Atheist Bus Campaign, with the aim of raising $10,000 in public donations to fund bus ads which read "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

Those ads created a storm when they ran on the London Underground and British buses this year. Similar ads have run in the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia, Finland and Germany.

3 News / NZPA

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