4 Stars – Inspirational
The narrative of the birth, life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most written about story in human history. It is also the subject of more works of art, including film, than any other subject in history. With this in mind, what can you say about the birth of Jesus that is new?
“The Nativity Story” paints a extra-biblical, but historically possible, picture of what the real life experience of Mary and Joseph may have been in the year leading up to the birth of the Christ child. Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) gives an endearing performance as a young girl coping with the reality of marrying a man that she barely knows. She has an innocence about her that captivates Joseph (Oscar Issac), a young man from the lineage of King David who is ten years her senior. Mary’s father offers her in marriage to Joseph, but according to tradition, they are to spend a year getting to know one another but not to have sexual contact.
In a vision, an angel reveals to Mary that she is to become pregnant with child through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Believing that God must be trusted, but afraid to tell anyone about the dream, she chooses to spend the summer away visiting her relative Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Elizabeth is also pregnant, even though she is an old woman. Her son will be known as “John, the Baptist” when he is a young man. Elizabeth had also had a revelation in a dream about Mary and she takes her in and cares for her.
Joseph worries about whether Mary will come back, but his delight upon her return changes to grief when he finds that she is pregnant. The story here follows the Biblical account of an angel also visiting Joseph in a dream to reveal God’s purpose for Mary’s life. The captivating portrayal shows the real life anguish that Joseph goes through in trying to reconcile what he feels about all of this. Whom does he believe? What is God trying to do? How does he cope with the disapproving looks of his neighbors?
Many of the other well-known characters in the story are interesting especially King Herod (Ciaran Hinds). Herod is a pathetic figure who is a prisoner of his own fear of betrayal. Having already killed his wife and sons out of fear of their taking away his power, he has no remorse in ordering all newborn males in Bethlehem killed even though he acknowledges that he may be killing a king of Israel that has been proclaimed in prophesies for 700 years.
“The Nativity Story” will be a familiar and welcomed addition to any Christian’s view of the birth of Jesus. For those who are not followers of Christ, the story can be an opening for a discussion about what actually happened here that changed course of history. Whether you approach this story as a believer or a nonbeliever, no one in recorded history has had more written about them than that of Jesus of Nazareth. That alone is worth contemplating what happened at the beginning of his life.
- The prophecy that a “virgin will conceive” (Isaiah 7:14) helps us believe the inconceivable claim that Mary makes when she is pregnant. Even if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, consider the question of why God chose this method of entering our world? What does such a method communicate?
- The difficulty both Mary and Joseph have with this event is obvious: The family’s shame, the betrothed’s betrayal, the teenager’s insecurities. Put yourself in Mary or Joseph’s shoes for a moment and consider how you would have dealt with this event. What would you have said and done?
- The insecurity of King Herod that causes him to kill his own family and then the young males of Bethlehem are reminiscent of the Pharaoh who ordered the young Hebrew males to be killed in Egypt. Do you see any similar insecurity in the leaders of today who make decisions that cost young males their lives?
- What do you think of this man Jesus? Is he the incarnation of God born of a virgin? If he isn’t then who do you say that He is?