When a popular book is made into a movie you often hear, “the book is better” or, “watch the movie first, then read the book”. As a fan of the Tom Clancy novels, The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, The Sum of All Fears, and many more, I can attest to these adages. As much as I respect the acting of the late Sean Connery, the movie adaptation of The Hunt for Red October didn’t hold a candle to the depth and details of the book. Clancy’s novels, many which went over 700 pages, delved into the thoughts and feelings of the characters in ways the movies simply cannot. The words on the pages allowed someone like me with little imagination to visualize what was taking place.
One “book” that doesn’t abide by these adages is the Bible. In this case, Bible-story movies, if done well, are often “better” than the book. What I mean by this is, movies provide narrative details that are not included in the Bible. Granted, these details are filled in through an artistic license granted to producers and directors, many based on historical or other sources. A relevant example of this is the 2006 movie The Nativity Story. The movie covers the period when a 14-year-old Mary is betrothed to Joseph, visited by the angel Gabriel, deals with a scandalous pregnancy, travels to Bethlehem, and gives birth to Jesus. (Even these words don’t do justice.)
For me, this movie brought the Christmas story to life that the words of Scripture and my own imagination could not. For example, in Luke we hear, “All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem.” That’s it. Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
When I read that, I almost skip over it as if that trip were like walking across the street. What we don’t get from Scripture is, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles using the most direct route. According to Google Maps the drive along Highway 60 would be just under 4 hours. What the movie showed was Joseph, wearing leather sandals on his feet, leading a donkey on which Mary sat, those 100 miles on nothing more than a goat trail! To put this somewhat in perspective, imagine walking from the Cathedral to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing wearing flip flops!
Yet as mindboggling as that is, at least for me, what was really jolting was the scene where Mary is holding the newborn baby Jesus. Yes, I’ve seen the Madonna and Child in paintings and statues, but there was something powerful watching an infant playing the part of Jesus move about in his mother’s arms in the movie that those other art forms just don’t convey for me. That scene brought to life for me the Word of God made flesh, the Word through which ALL things were created, humbling himself to become an infant out of love for you and me.
As Advent draws to an end, let us recognize the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior were real, more real than what Scripture may sometimes convey. And let us make present, in an equally real way, the love Jesus invites us to share with one another.
In the peace of Christ,