The whole Christmas story

BRF’s Advent book 2021, The Whole Christmas Story, has been written by Jo Swinney, communications director for the Christian environmental organisation A Rocha International. We spoke to Jo about the inspiration for the book, and about some of the challenges of the season for people who are going through hard times.

14 November 2021

Genesis to Revelation and points in between

My inspiration was the fact that I’ve grown up reading the Bible and feel over-familiar with certain bits of it. The 120 verses which cover the birth narrative of Jesus are almost certainly the best-known passages in the Bible for many of us. So I was considering other angles, wider lenses, for the Advent period, and decided to try to put that event – the birth of Jesus – into its whole biblical context.

How did you navigate your way from Genesis to Revelation and how did you select the waypoints in your adventure?

I looked at the broad thematic sweep of the Bible, from creation, to fall, to redemption and the new creation, and chose parts of the Bible to represent those large themes.

Tell us about the notion of shalom, which infuses your book.

I love the word shalom. There’s no direct translation into English, but it speaks of wholeness, completeness and peace with God, and also between us, as people, and between us and the created world. There are many ways in which you could try to summarise what the birth of Jesus accomplished, but the most complete way I can think of is in that word shalom, in the wholeness that Jesus allows us to experience.

‘The most complete way I can think to summarise what the birth of Jesus accomplished is in that word shalom

You said in the original proposal for the book that ‘the Christmas season with all its glitter and promise can throw our brokenness into stark relief’. What did you mean by that?

Since the time of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Christmas has carried a lot of cultural baggage. It’s baggage which can be quite nice: cosy hearth sides and family unity and feasting, but when that’s all highlighted in advertising and in the media, it contrasts with the reality of so many of our lives. It can make our lives seem very dark. Those commercialised images of Christmas can throw into stark relief the fact that many families are broken and hurting. Bereavement is particularly hard at Christmas, and also broken relationships and loneliness. The pressures are immense and people often get deeper into debt trying to live up to the image of Christmas in the magazines and adverts.

What did you learn from writing the book?

It was a reminder of the beautiful coherence of this library of books which we call the Bible. There’s this absolute golden thread running through the narrative, beginning to end, across all the different genres, different cultures, the millennia of history – throughout it all, there’s this traceable thread of hope culminating in the birth of a person who against all odds arrived and changed everything.

‘Throughout the Bible, there’s this thread of hope culminating in the birth of a person who changed everything.’

What do you most hope your readers will take away from this book?

I hope they’ll have a renewed confidence in scripture, and in God’s handle on the big picture – on the world – in which we’re all living, which feels pretty messy at times.

I also hope people will be able to look at the nativity scene and not be so bored by it! Not to think ‘Oh here come the angels’ and snooze off. Not to think ‘Oh, and here are the shepherds, again…’, but to see it afresh in all its nuance and depth and complexity. It can feel over familiar, but when you put it in context it’s not a children’s story: there are some really dark, scary bits: the struggle to find shelter, the dangers of childbirth in an animal shelter, the risk of Mary being abandoned in shame, Herod’s massacre of the innocents.

‘I hope people will be able to look at the nativity scene and not be so bored by it!’

I hope, ultimately, that The Whole Christmas Story will help people journey towards Jesus. This person who was born and, as we say in the Creed, died, rose again and is alive today. I hope people’s faith in that alive Jesus will grow.

A prayer from The Whole Christmas Story

God, sometimes the dark is so dense I can’t see a single reason to be hopeful. I choose to believe there is no dark you cannot penetrate. Thank you that you have promised you are with me and your word is to be trusted. I’m impatient for healing, for relief, for the morning to come. Help me wait patiently. Amen

Jo Swinney

Jo Swinney is communications director at A Rocha International. She blogs at

Advent is a time to remember and reflect on the Christmas story and the baby at its heart. But the virgin birth, the manger, the mysterious eastern visitors and their portentous gifts – all these hint at a much grander narrative. Come and explore the whole Christmas story, and find your place within it.

Times of loss

If this is a difficult time for you, and all the Christmas hype is making it worse, we have a number of books written by experienced, sensitive authors to offer support, encouragement and hope.