12/27/06

Did you celebrate Christmas in a way that even Jesus would love?

"A Christmas even Jesus would love" has been our theme at Horizons in December, and I would like to hear from you about how this idea may have affected the way you approached the season.

Think about the following ten questions. If you can answer yes to even one of them, you've taken a step toward a Christmas Jesus would love.

1. Did you make a difference to at least one person in need?
2. Did you practice financial integrity in your business and your buying?
3. Did you choose to be gracious rather than grouchy with those who waited on you?
4. Did you invest in a ministry that shows hospitality to strangers?
5. Did you show hospitality to a stranger when the opportunity arose?
6. Did you show hospitality to those already around you?
7. Did you welcome a child in your extended family or neighborhood on Jesus' behalf?
8. Did you invest yourself in the lives of children in your church?
9. Did you open your heart to kids in need?
10. Did you open yourself to the gift of God's gracious friendship?

Please reply and let us know if there was any way that you honored or experienced Jesus this season. I'd love to hear from you. (And let me know you're out there reading! Thanks.)

12/21/06

What did you think of "Nativity" movie?

If you read my previous posting, you got a few of my reflections on the movie. But for those of you who've seen it (about 200 from Horizons saw it last night), give us your reaction. I read an article in Christianity Today from the screenplay writer and how he wanted to show the human experience these people went through.

My favorite Christian movie critic, Jeffrey Overstreet, calls the movie uninspiring and disappointing. Here's his review. (My link button isn't working again, so you'll have to cut and paste this into your browser.)

http://lookingcloser.org/movie%20reviews/H-P/nativitystory.htm

12/12/06

Reviewing "The Nativity Story"

Last night Tricia and I went to see "The Nativity Story." Two hundred people from Horizons are signed up to see it November 20th, and I don't want to spoil the movie for you, so if you want to read this review after you've seen it for yourself, I understand. (Beware, this is my longest posting ever.)

I applaud writer Mike Rich (Radio; The Rookie; Finding Forrester) and director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown; Thirteen) for doing their homework on the culture of first-century Galilee and Judea: the grain harvest, olive pressing, the design of the homes and villages, the temple in Jerusalem, the religious traditions. These are the things I liked best about the movie.

Anytime you translate a written text into audio and video, certain assumptions must be made. For example, a conversation between Herod and his son Herod Antipas is plausible based on what we know about Herod the Great. The alignment of planets as the star the magi saw is one of several explanations that have been offered. It's not necessarily what happened, but it's plausible. The fear that Mary might be stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock is not mentioned in scripture. But such punishment was allowable under Jewish law, if not usually carried out. Again, it's added into the story, but it's not implausible.

The writer has woven together Matthew's and Luke's stories into a seamless whole that works well. For example, Luke records that the newly pregnant Mary leaves Nazareth to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea. When Mary returns months later, she is visibly showing. This is where the film inserts the episode from Matthew's gospel of Joseph's initial rejection of Mary. I'd never thought about harmonizing those two events, but it flowed nicely in the film.

Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac both do an admirable job of not over playing their roles as Mary and Joseph. No academy award nominations here, but I liked them and found them believable. I especially appreciated that the relationship between Joseph and Mary was not overly romanticized. Herod was believeably sinister. The magi provided a touch of comic relief.

The PG rating is certainly deserving; if it had been one degree more graphic in a couple of violent scenes (like the opening scene), it easily could have earned a PG-13 rating, so parents beware. It's not a movie that little kids are going to like anyway. For adults, it's a little slow, but if you're patient, you'll enjoy it.

Now, to my complaints about the film--and they are not many.

First, there are some chronology issues. While much of the film works hard to be faithful to scripture (for example, Mary says to the angel, "May it be to me as you have said," directly quoting Luke 1:38), the film places Herod's order to kill all the infants and toddlers in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born, causing the holy family to flee immediately to Egypt.

That does not fit with Luke's chronology. Luke says that on the eighth day Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised. This event is swept away in the "Nativity.”

It doesn't fit Matthew's chronology either, because Matthew implies that the magi arrived later, maybe even up to a couple years after Jesus was born. But in order to create the Christmas card scene, "Nativity" has the magi show up right on cue immediately after the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth. That Christmas card effect is enhanced by showing the light from the "star" piercing through a hole in the clouds down upon the holy family.

I appreciated the pre-introduction of a shepherd to Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. We then later see an angel appear to this same shepherd telling him about the birth of the Messiah. I was surprised that he was alone when the angel spoke to him. Usually I think of a band of shepherds being addressed. But then as you see him heading toward Bethlehem, you also see other shepherds proceeding from their own hillsides on their way to Bethlehem.

This would actually fit the biblical text; the angel didn't have to appear to them in a group. It makes more sense that they were scattered about. The one thing I did miss, though, was the great company of the heavenly host suddenly appearing and saying stuff like "Glory to God in the highest." That scene must've been left on the cutting room floor.

One nice touch was hearing the voice-over of Mary in the final scene quoting from her "Magnificat," which chronologically actually happened when she first arrived to see Elizabeth. But it's as if Mary is remembering it, and it's a beautiful way to summarize the events we've just witnessed.

"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers" (Luke 1:51-55).