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The Nativity Story
The movie, The Nativity Story, does what historical fiction does best - it brings to life an event from our past and reads between the lines. In this particular movie, it shows how God used ordinary people for extraordinary purposes. Each person in The Nativity Story had to have felt fear, confusion and a myriad of other emotions that the Bible does not articulate. This movie does a great job of taking a supernatural event and showing us that God can use anyone to fulfill His plan.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
What really struck me as I watched this movie is how young Mary was. According to Jewish tradition, young girls were betrothed to be married around 12-13 years old and were wed one year later. Most likely, Mary would have been around 14 years old when she gave birth to Jesus.
When Gabriel came to Nazareth to tell Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, that she would be with child, Mary asked how it could be since she was a virgin. Gabriel explained to her that the Holy Spirit was going to come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her so that the holy one to be born would be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
To this Mary replied, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38)
I don't know about you, but I don't think Mary's response is the first thing that would have come out of my mouth. It would have been more like, "WHAT? Are you crazy?"
In the movie, Mary is shown as torn between wanting to remain a young, carefree girl and a woman who is carrying the Messiah. Instead of carrying on with her friends, she wonders how she is going to tell Joseph and her parents and worries they won't believe her.
Elizabeth, Bearer of John the Baptist
Just as the Gospel of Luke describes, the story of Elizabeth's conception is also portrayed in The Nativity Story. Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, is a barren woman and of old age. The angel, Gabriel, had also appeared to Zechariah telling him that Elizabeth would bear a son and they were to name him John. (Luke 1:13) The angel also tells him that John would go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17) Because of his disbelief, John lost his ability to speak until John has born.
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary went to visit her. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear." (Luke 1:41)
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home. In the movie, Mary was present for the birth of John, but according Luke, it sounds like Mary had already gone home. When Mary did return home, she was just beginning to show and she tries to explain to her parents and to Joseph what the Angel of the Lord had told her. Mary's parents wondered if she was raped by one of Herod's soldiers. They try to tell her she could be stoned for her actions.
Joseph, Husband of Mary
In the movie, even though he seemed angry and confused, Joseph tells Mary he will not make any accusation so that there can be no trial. According to the Gospel of Matthew, "Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly." (Matthew 1:19)
That is, until an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived to her is from the Holy Spirit. "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21)
Mary had to have been relieved when Joseph told her he believed her. Even though others would look and talk about them, they both knew they were in God's will.
Three other characters the movie focuses on are the Magi, or more popularly known as the three wise men. Although the Bible doesn't say how many there actually were, we do know they brought the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, which is why we assume there were three of them.
The Magi were astrologers who were guided to Bethlehem by a bright, shining star. They are believed to have traveled from Persia or Babylon, the Bible only mentions they came from the East.
The movie portrays them as somewhat comical characters who tended to argue with one another. Two of the wise men set off to make the journey and just as they were being sarcastic about being glad the third did not join them, up he comes from behind on his camel. He tells them he had to come along because he was the wisest and besides, they forgot the map.
The Magi are only mentioned in the book of Matthew. It says they followed the star to Bethlehem and worshipped Jesus. King Herod called on the Magi and wanted them to tell him where the child was after they found him. After being warned in a dream, they did not return to Herod. (Matthew 2:1-12)
The Journey to Bethlehem
Can you imagine being 8 months pregnant, riding on a donkey over some not-so-smooth terrain for over 100 miles? This is exactly what Mary had to endure when Caesar issued a decree that a census had to be taken and everyone had to go to their hometown to register. This meant Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he belonged to the house and the line of David. The Bible simply states Joseph went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him and expecting a child. (Luke 2:1-5)
The reason for the census was King Herod, who ruled over Judea for Caesar, was freaking out about the prophecy in Jeremiah 23:5-6. "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, A king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety."
During the census, as each man registered in his hometown, King Herod's subjects were ordered to look for a man who might be a king. It wasn't until later he discovered a child, not a man was to fulfill the prophecy.
While on their journey, Joseph and Mary confide in one another that they are both afraid. Mary also asks Joseph, "Do you ever wonder when we'll know that He is more than just a child?" Joseph wonders if he will even be able to teach Him anything.
At night, Joseph and Mary sleep on the rough ground next to a small campfire. There is little food to eat and Joseph is shown giving his share of food to the donkey who must carry Mary. When they finally reach their destination, Mary begins to have contractions and Joseph desperately looks for a place to stay.
The Birth of Christ
...and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Matthew 2:7)
This is all the Bible says about the birth of Jesus. But as the movie depicts, there had to have been contractions and labor pains. Even though it was the baby Jesus, I'm sure He didn't just pop out! But those are things we don't really think about when pondering the birth of Christ. We think instead about what Mary might have said to the shepherds as they came to worship baby Jesus, "He is for all mankind, a gift for each of us."
I think the movie does a great job of reading between the lines of the Birth of Christ that is depicted in the Bible. But whether in the Bible or on the big screen, The Nativity Story is a truly amazing one as it is God becoming flesh and giving us salvation, the greatest gift of all.