The movie opens with Jeremiah 23:5-6: "'The days are coming,'" declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.'" The rest of the movie references and quotes Scripture throughout.
The intensely paranoid King Herod sends out the troops to kill all the innocents in Bethlehem and stop the prophecy that there will be born a King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Herod is intensely superstitious and played brilliantly. Thus, this movie starts, as it should, with a bang. It then flashes back to a year earlier in the town of Nazareth, showing a brief moment of tranquility in the life of Mary and Joseph.
Suddenly, the Roman troops are upon the village demanding tribute for Caesar. Mary's father loses part of his land and his donkey. Joseph the carpenter buys the donkey back from the greedy soldier and gives it back to the father, asking for Mary's hand in marriage. Mary protests a little, but she is betrothed and must spend a year before they consummate the marriage.
Soon, an angel of God comes to Mary to tell her that she is with God's child, born by the Holy Spirit. She goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, who in her older age is also with child. (A previous scene shows Elizabeth’s husband, the priest Zechariah, entering the temple and being struck mute when he doubts the word of the angel that Elizabeth had become pregnant.) When Mary returns to Nazareth, it is clear that Mary is pregnant. Joseph is devastated but decides to continue with the marriage after an angel appears to him in a dream. At the same time, the magi in Babylon are preparing to follow a unique astrological sign, which forms a brief new star, to find the King of Kings.
Joseph and Mary have to journey to Bethlehem to register for the Roman census, and the prophecies of God are fulfilled.
THE NATIVITY STORY has one of the best scripts ever for a biblical story. What makes a movie compelling is a sense of jeopardy, and that sense of jeopardy is present throughout this movie. The dialogue, the plot development, the turning points are refreshingly dramatic, so good in fact that they will elicit tears at certain points. THE NATIVITY STORY is compelling drama that carefully avoids gruesome, graphic violence. Even the slaughtering of the ox at the temple does not show the blade entering the animal, yet it causes the audience to wince.
Catherine Hardwicke's direction is superb. Joseph and Mary are very human and very Jewish and very much in love. Each character has a terrific character arc. Probably the best part of the movie is the costuming and the settings. Having spent some time in Israel researching other movies, I can attest to the authenticity of even the smallest details of life in Israel in the first century. The crucifixions, the agriculture, the ephods, everything is done exquisitely. There is one moment where Mary has an attitude, but it is very brief and natural. A later statement, however, declares that Mary is always trustworthy, that she keeps her promises and therefore she is honored by God. Her complexities add depth to her character and make the story of Mary and Joseph more profound.
THE NATIVITY STORY is a nearly perfect movie. It should be a movie that every Christian would want to see. It is certainly a movie that every Non-Christian should see. It testifies in every way to Jesus the Messiah and is clearly and consciously evangelistic. Such statements that this baby is the “greatest King” and “God made flesh,” that the gold is for the King of the world, that the frankincense is for the greatest priest of all, and that the myrrh is to honor the sacrifice, and many, many more pointedly proclaim the story of the Christ and the great news that there is salvation in none other.
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