* The Man Born To Be King – Part 1. Kings in Judea

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Mark Wacome Stevick as King Herod, centre.

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THE MAN BORN TO BE KING: Part 1 – Kings in Judea   

Address to the Audience – December 14, 2013:

Good evening. I’m Jo Kadlecek. Welcome and thank you so much for coming. Tonight you’re sitting in the sanctuary where members from First Church of Danvers UCC and North Point EPC, both worship on Sunday mornings.  In fact, tonight’s production of Dorothy Sayers’ radio play Kings in Judea from The Man Born to be King is a joint effort of both congregations.  So what you’re about to hear is not a typical Christmas play. Not only have two churches come together to offer this gift to you, but the play itself offers a different perspective entirely on the Christmas story. Spoiler alert: Not a lot of holiday cheer to follow. That’s because when the BBC commissioned Dorothy Sayers to write a series of radio plays about the birth and life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, she was determined to reflect the gospel stories as they were, in a language and truth that the common people of England in the early 1940s could understand. What she produced was 12 hour-long shows about Christ’s time on earth that were aired over the course of a year, reaching millions of people. Tonight’s show is the first, and I promise it’s a different way to think about the kind of world the Baby Jesus was born into.  We’ve changed nothing in the play, and if you miss something because of the language, don’t worry, we’ll be recording it and posting it online for you to listen to again. That info is in your program. But for now, I invite you to imagine you’re no longer in a sanctuary, no, you’re the audience in a radio studio, in England in 1941, waiting to hear a group of radio actors perform the Christmas story in a way you’ve never heard before.

The Story Behind “The Man Born to be King”

Just before Christmas in 1941, families across England gathered around their radios. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and the U.S. and Britain had declared war on Japan. The year before, massive German air raids had descended across England with no signs of letting up. Hitler’s troops had murdered countless Jews, invaded Poland and Austria, and forced the people of Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Yugoslavia to surrender. Seven days after Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the U.S. By Dec. 19, 1941, Hitler had launched one of the most horrific attacks in human history.
But on Dec. 21, 1941, families and neighbors in England gathered around their upright radios not for the latest news on the war, but to hear a dramatic program from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It was the story of a particular baby in Bethlehem who had been born outside a ‘shepherd’s cottage,’ whose birth was celebrated by wise men but threatened by a king as evil as Hitler. Herod was his name.
From that first December night until October 1942, the BBC aired eleven more of these radio plays about the life of Jesus Christ, written in modern dialect and delivered by a cast of English radio actors. Two years before, the BBC had commissioned Dorothy L. Sayers, a mystery-writer-turned dramatist and essayist, to write the series of plays on “the Life of Our Lord.” The BBC’s director of religious broadcasting, J.W. Welch, felt they were necessary because, “God was no longer a factor to be reckoned with in making decisions and the language of religion had lost most; everywhere was a great ignorance of Christian Faith. Many (perceived) it was possible to live without any vital belief in God. He did not count.”
Welch wondered how—and if—a radio series could, “make Christ and his story live again?” Sayers agreed to try and The Man Born to Be King was broadcast in every town throughout England, repeated again the following year during the Lenten season.
Two million people listened to Sayers’ drama, against the backdrop of wartime raids and food rations. And in hundreds of letters to the BBC, many admitted that The Man Born to Be King shocked and challenged them, changing what they thought they knew about Jesus.
May tonight’s Christmas story—and this Advent season—do the same for us.