Sunday, December 24, 2006


We went to see The Nativity Story at the AMC Whirlygig 28 Theater This Afternoon. It had to be that one or the Greedy Acres AMC Cinema because I had 2 $10 gift cards from there thanks to a contest at work earlier this year. I almost decided against The Nativity because most of the reviews felt it was stodgy and unimaginatively done. One thought it was "episodic" and "disjointed."

But to me it was lovely and rather emotional, not to mention it gave a really good idea of just how gritty 1st century Palestinian life was under Roman occupation. It reminded me of nothing so much as a refugee camp I taught in once. Dirty and grim with people battling to stay alive and no cushion to fall back on. If you couldn't pay your taxes, Rome would take your fields -- or your children.

Daughters were married back then because your father decreed it, not because you fell in love. That is worlds away from our current idea, but a fact of life back then. In the movie Mary did not like Joseph at all when her father told her bluntly and with no discussion, "You will be his wife." But the writer used their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (not to mention Joseph's honorable and courageous reaction to a virgin birth) to show how love between these two terrified young people could have developed. It also showed the struggle to wrap their minds around what sort of being was riding inside Mary's womb.

And then, every so often in this nasty, agonized existence, transcendence breaks in. This is handled very well: Gabriel is an angel to be reckoned with and listened to, but not so out-of-the-ordinary as to look like a hokey special effect. More of an enhanced human being. The stellar conjuction that is taken to be the Star of Bethlehem here is plausibly and gorgeously done, with a pre-determined astronomical event tweaked by the divine to reach for the little stable where the Prince of Peace is painfully being born.

Taking this movie together with The Passion (which I can't stand to watch) as a set of bookends on the incarnation, the message I take away is this: The most important event in history took place in the grungiest place in the world. The most preternatural, miraculous thing ever, happened against the background of crushed, dirty, tired, suffering peasants grasping desperately for ways to survive.

Why is God like that? Why would he show up there?

The music was beautifully done as well. As the film begins you recognize the strains of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, the prayer of all Jews of the time. At the end you barely notice that the music you are listening to is Silent Night, but it is so perfectly right for the final scene.

I plan to get this DVD when it comes out.

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