Friday, December 08, 2006

The Nativity Story

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Daughter #3, my wonderful wife and I went to see the movie "The Nativity Story" today. We all enjoyed it.

My wife described it as a "simple epic." I cannot improve on that description.

The movie is just what it says that it is: A "Story." That's all. It tells the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. It simply tells the story. It does not create any subplots or clever endeavors or quirky characters to "jazz up" the story. Nor does the movie employ spectacular special effects for sheer "wow" power.

The movie simply tells the story that we find in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It uses the same characters and the same settings. It fills out the biblical narrative with insightful character development and creates a context of time and space that brings the story "down to earth".

This is a far cry from such movies as "The Passion of the Christ" or "One Night With the King" that added so much to the story that the story itself got obscured in the swirl of directorial "vision" (as in the "Passion") or the addition of motives and background ("One Night...") that were lacking in the biblical stories they presumed to retell.

As in all great stories it is best to simply tell the story and get out of the way, letting the original themes and interplay of characters and events speak for themselves.

Director Catherine Hardwicke has done just this and it has succeeded beautifully.

The movie is not a great film. It will not win any awards. But it will win the heart of the viewer. The effect of the young virgin Mary's unplanned pregnancy on her family, her betrothed (Joseph) and the rest of her home village of Nazareth is especially heartrending and will touch the hearts of many who have suffered through similar (though non-virgin!) situations in their own life or those of family members and friends.

The characters are not particularly pious in the trivial sense of the word. But they are depicted as being simple and genuine in their faith. The message comes through quite clearly that God can, and does, use simple, uncomplicated and unsophisticated people to work great and marvelous things on God's behalf.
This point is poignantly expressed as Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. A paranoid King Herod has his soldiers watching for anyone that might look like a threat to claim great status and power as the prophesied Messiah. A soldier takes a few moments to search perfunctorily through Mary and Joseph's things, hardly gives them a second glance and then waves them through the checkpoint saying, "This isn't the one."

If you have ever felt like a "nobody" you will especially enjoy this film since the movie, and the original story itself, were made for you in particular. Mary herself wonders how she, as a nobody, could have been chosen by God to bear this child. The movie (and the Bible) do not give a clear answer to this question. But the movie (and the Bible) do give Mary's own response to her role in God's plan.
...the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
In the end, after the two "nobodies" from Nazareth have been touched by God, scorned by their friends and family, experienced travel and hardships on the way to Bethlehem; after they discover the genuine love that dwells in each other's personal character (a love that makes the lack of romantic love moot for Mary); after they are discovered by shepherds and Wise Men in a dirty cave buzzing with flies; after they flee Herod's wrath for the safety of exile in Egypt, we hear the above words of Mary in, perhaps, a new way.

The angel tells Mary that, "With God, nothing will be impossible."

The rest of the movie shows us that the angel's words were true.

Faith assures us that these words are still true today and that "The Nativity Story" still has the power to "lift up the humble and fill the hungry with good things."

Go see this movie. Bring a friend. Let the story do the rest.