When I saw The Nativity Story I expected to see a compelling, realistic account of Christ’s birth. What I didn’t expect was such a compelling, realistic story about Mary and Joseph.
The film focuses on three narratives: The paranoia of King Herod, who fears that the Jewish people will rise up and overthrow their oppressive Roman conquerors … the journey of the wise men, who recognize that the extraordinary convergence of three planets heralds the birth of a king … and, above all, the faith, courage, and growing love of two simple Jews from Nazareth. We are reminded that Mary was most likely a young teenager who hardly knew her new husband. We see the shock Joseph experienced when learning Mary was pregnant, and we admire his faith and courage in remaining committed to her when others wanted to act upon their natural assumptions about Mary’s pregnancy.
As the young couple travels to Bethlehem, their love and attachment grows as they experience the difficulties of a 100-mile journey. Joseph is a man of strength and humility and will do whatever is required to protect and provide for his wife. Mary’s maturity grows along with the child she bears. By the end of the film I realized this was not only a story of God’s love in sending a Savior to dwell among us, but also a tale of the love He put in the hearts of the two people who became the child’s parents.
I do not envy the filmmakers in taking on this project. Many of those watching this film bring into the theater a lifetime of emotions and expectations surrounding this story. How do you expand the biblical narrative into a 100-minute movie without disappointing the audience?
Admirably, The Nativity Story does not compromise on the most important details; there is no doubt about God’s miraculous intervention. Some may be disappointed that the wise men arrive in Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth, since many Bible scholars believe that this event actually occurred a year or two later. But to me that detail is not a significant concern; otherwise I wouldn’t include the wise men in nativity scenes in my home.
Some may complain about the movie’s fairly slow pace, but in an age of spectacular, fast-paced and ultimately shallow films, I enjoy one that takes time to develop its characters. The film succeeded in drawing me in so that I left the theater thinking, “Yes, this is the way it might have happened.”
My one caution is that this is not a film for young children. It is rated PG primarily for brief depictions of Roman repression (including the slaughter of male infants in Bethlehem) and for the debate in Mary’s family about her pregnancy. Before taking children under 10, I suggest parents see it first and then decide whether they think it is appropriate.
Besides, this may be a movie you want to view first with your spouse. I felt it was a movie that not only honors God, but honors the institution of marriage as well.
It’s a love story, and it’s worth seeing.
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