An unmarried pregnant girl. Messages from angels. A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Shepherds and wise men. We’ve all played out the story each year as we set fragile figurines on the mantelpiece.
The Nativity Story breathes life into those figures. It doesn’t challenge the traditional misconceptions of Jesus’ birth but neither does it back away from fully affirming the deity of this baby born in Bethlehem – Immanuel, God with us.
Christmas on the Screen
With a beautiful, moving score that includes interwoven classic carols, The Nativity Story (2006), directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is a film worth considering this Christmas season.
I approached this movie with some slight skepticism, waiting to see how it would push a slightly altered worldview than the truth recorded in Scripture. But as the characters followed the Biblical narrative and dialogue, I was encouraged to meditate on the miraculous birth of Christ and stand in awe of the wisdom of God.
Simple or Scarce
Screenwriter Mike Rich approached the film with a “less is more” approach. The dialogue is sparse and tender moments are left to speak for themselves. In one sense, this works well in keeping the story surprisingly simple and true to the Biblical account. However, this approach makes the plot drag at points, and several scenes seemed lacking in emotion.
Some of the actors also missed making an emotional connection. In the biblical narrative, Mary captivates me and while reading I try to feel her emotions of fear, disbelief, turmoil, and joy. So I was disappointed when I felt distant from and unable to read the actor portraying her.
There are heartwarming moments in the movie, especially from Joseph and Elisabeth, but I still felt something lacking and the scarce dialogue may have played a part in that.
Sex and language content are not a problem, as Mary’s pregnancy and supposed sin is talked about as delicately as in the Scriptural account. However, parents should be forewarned that, while violence in the film is minimal, it does begin with Herod’s purge of the male children in Bethlehem. Shouting, raised swords, and crying fills the dark night of the screen. While the actual act of murder is not shown, the scene pans across what appears to be dead children in the arms of weeping mothers.
The violence and cruelty of Rome is a theme carried throughout the film. Although at moments the slow-motion thundering hooves and angry faces are all we see, at other times men are hanging from trees, soldiers chase down a culprit, and a young girl is being dragged away from her screaming mother.
Even though these scenes add reality and context to the world in which Jesus was born and are an asset, their effect should be considered before watching. Another debatable scene is a palm reader foreseeing Mary’s future – but the moment, which may cause discussion, passes quickly.
Where are the Wise Men?
The timeline of the Biblical account surrounding Jesus’ birth was something my family debated each year as we decided where to put the wise men in our nativity. More often than not, we opted to have them traveling to Bethlehem, as it seems most likely they were.
While this film follows the traditional understanding of the timeline and has the wise men on their way before Mary and Joseph head to Bethlehem, it doesn’t take away from the story the film is telling. Also, the placement of several other events is questionable throughout the film.
Tell Me the Old, Old Story
Do we need to be reminded yet again of the “Christmas Story”? It sounds like a trite question, but consider the implications.
We need to stand in awe of our God. We need to rejoice in the miraculous birth of the Son of God. We need to hear that He holds out peace to all men.
The Nativity Story gives this reminder in all the simplicity it is supposed to have. Not only that, but glimpses of grace and the full Gospel are seen throughout the film.
Yes, it is a movie, and as such doesn’t follow every detail of the Biblical timeline. But as we watch royalty in embroidered gold dismount from their camels to kneel in the straw beside filthy shepherds, we see one of the greatest truths the film speaks – our Jesus is a Savior and “a Child for the lowest of men to the highest of kings.”
|Sadie Beery has recently been transplanted to Elnora, Indiana where she lives with her husband, Aaron, and interacts with the Elnora Bible Institute where he works. She loves poetry, good coffee, and Skype calls. Currently she works at a little thrift store, turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. She is excited about the adventure of life God is leading her on and longs know him better and do all things with excellence for His glory. Her dream is to one day publish a book, but right now she just tries to find time to clean the house.|
 Overstreet, Jeffrey. “Don’t Call The Nativity Story ‘a Prequel to The Passion.’” Response, Aug. 2006, spu.edu/depts/uc/response/autumn2k6/bookfilm/TheNativity.asp.
 Hodge, Bodie, and Tim Chaffey. “Christmas Timeline of the Biblical Account.” Answers in Genesis, Answers in Genesis, 21 Dec. 2010, answersingenesis.org/holidays/christmas/a-matter-of-time/.
 Godfrey, Wyck, et al. The Nativity Story. New Line Cinema, 2006.