|The Nativity Story held
my attention visually and emotionally. I have learned to not expect much
from Hollywood versions of Bible stories, but this movie was one of the
better ones. The scriptwriter, the director, and the actors brought true-to-life
emotional reactions and human struggle with hard choices to an old story.
The birth of Jesus is usually treated as a myth, a children's story, or
a legend. But in The Nativity Story instead of an alabaster Madonna,
we are shown a teenage Jewish girl called by God to become an unwed mother
through a miraculous conception. She accepted the calling even though it
could mean death by stoning or at least rejection by her family and community.
Yet she trusted God to bring about his promise that her child would not
only save Israel, but the whole world.
The actress said to her father what the screenwriter imagines Mary to have said in her own defense: “I have told the truth. Whether you believe is your choice, not mine.” You won't find this quote in the scriptural accounts, but certainly this is implied. The Gospel accounts are the eyewitness testimonies of those who lived during this time. We can choose to believe them or not.
Instead of a shadowy background figure, Joseph is brought forward to reveal his mercy and kindness which struggled against his sense of justice and suspicion of betrayal. We watch him grow to believe Mary; and we watch Mary grow in her love and respect for this man she hardly knew, but was chosen to be her husband.
The scenes with Herod and his son Antipater reveal some of the political ruthlessness of this ruling family. Glimpses of what village life may have been like, scenes at the temple, and abuses of an occupying army bring a sense of the historical setting of the birth of Jesus and the desire and expectation for the arrival of the Messiah.
The Magi provided a little light humor in what could have been almost unrelenting drama. The movie took more than its share of artistic license in depicting the magi and the timing of their arrival to worship the new born king. The movie depicts the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the Magi, the flight of the family to Egypt and the slaughter of the Bethlehem babies all in the same time frame. The scriptural accounts allow for at least a two year spread between the birth of Jesus and the other events.
The season of the birth of Jesus is left ambiguous in the movie. Most scholars realize Jesus was not born in December, but either in the spring or the fall. The most likely time seems to be the fall of the year near the fall holy days. (Leviticus 23)
The Nativity Story is better than most movies at depicting Jewish life, faith and daily troubles during a time of political and religious turmoil. Except for the Magi and the closing chronology, the story follows closely the Bible time line. The movie was good at showing ordinary people facing extraordinary events with courage and faithfulness through their fear. I was moved to tears by some of the tender moments such as Mary washing Joseph's travel-worn, blood-stained feet as they stopped to rest on their journey to Bethlehem.
I still long for some movie maker to create
a film that is faithful to the Bible story line, intent, and the historical
context. Perhaps, Mel Gibson's The Passion,
came close, but if you want the facts, read the Bible accounts. The book
is always better. You will find the nativity story in Matthew chapters
one and two and Luke chapters one and two. Then you can decide for yourself
whether to believe the eyewitnesses.