The Nativity Story actually begins in the liturgical season of Christmas, with the Slaughter of the Innocents. Roman soldiers descending upon a small town in the middle of the night, breaking down doors and yanking sleeping baby boys out of their screaming mothers’ arms to slaughter them in the streets makes for a great dramatic lead-in which can’t help but to draw the average viewer into the story.
Just as the soldiers leave town with a trail of small, dead bodies behind them and the heartbreaking wails set in, the viewer is taken a year back in time, to watch the unfolding the story leading up to that event – to Jerusalem, to the Temple, where Zachariah is carrying out his priestly duties in the Holy of Holies and, there, is given the promise of his son’s birth. John will be the Prophet who heralds the arrival of the Messiah.
As promised, the location, sets, and costuming are breathtaking in detail. The score incorporates historic Advent and Christmas tunes, opening with a men’s choir singing Veni Emmanuel and closing with Mary saying the words of the Magnificat as she and Joseph escape to Egypt with Stille Nacht being sung in the background.
The characters reveal depth and authenticity. Mary is thoughtful and humble, Joseph is a quiet and honorable man, Elizabeth overflows with joyful faithfulness, Herod is cruel and paranoid, and the Magi are wealthy intellectuals who provide light comic relief. Gabriel’s appearance wasn’t quite as masculine as one might expect, and it was disappointing not to see the heavenly host or hear their singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo at the announcement to the shepherds. But if that’s all there is to really critique in this potentially controversial movie, that’s not a big deal at all.
When the media started saying that this movie would have a Christian message that unites rather than divides like The Passion of the Christ, many Christians began to worry that their faith would once again be perverted as in the recent DaVinci Code. That sort of favorable commentary from reporters is usually a sign that the script has been stripped of any distinctly Christian message of the Gospel and instead substitutes pop-spirituality in the place of historic theology for mass-appeal. The Nativity Story did none of that. Fortunately, most of the theological commentary has been relegated to the supplementary materials that are available for groups and churches to deepen the audience’s experience.
The movie stayed true to the Biblical accounts of Christ’s advent and birth. There were even hints of the Gospel revealed in the movie – stating quite plainly that the Child would save His people from their sins, and that He is God made into flesh.
That’s not the sort of message you hear at the movies today. Go see The Nativity Story, it’s well worth the price of admission.
Mrs. Sandra Ostapowich, a.k.a. “Madre,” is the Secretary of Higher Things and the Conference Chair of the Minneapolis “FOR YOU” conference. In this picture she’s holding “Fernando,” her youth group’s pet salamander.