Of course, what follows is the conversation with Eve in which the serpent moves from casting doubt on her understanding of God's word ("Did God really say?") to casting doubt on God's Word itself ("You will not certainly die") to casting doubt on God's love ("He knows that if you eat of it...[and is keeping something good from you]"). Most of the lies since then have, more or less, boiled down to these three, but they began with a question - "Did God really say..." and then suggestions that even if he did, it didn't really matter.
I'm not talking about the Santa Claus debate, or Elf on the Shelf, or commercialism or the whole idea of the fantasy and magic of Christmas. I'm talking about how biblically accurate we are while we make Jesus the reason for the season.
Here is a real life "for instance."
There is a new movie coming out tomorrow called "The Star." It is the story of the first Christmas, the nativity, from the perspective of the animals, especially one particular donkey named Bo. Full disclosure - I have NOT seen any screenings so everything I know is coming from review I have read from people who have seen it, especially these fromPlugged In and MovieGuide. The overall impression I have gotten from reading them is that this is a wonderful family film, reverential, and faithful to Christian theology and to the biblical account - with one minor exception that, as one reviewer puts it, "the movie condenses and shifts a few incidents found in the Bible."
What movie doesn't do that, right? For literary purposes, after all. Anyone who has seen Little House on the Prairie knows that after the first few episodes, the series departed from the actual incidents in the book, but it was still a much-loved and highly acclaimed series. Some things just don't translate well from print to screen. No big deal, right?
Or is it?
As a literary purist, I can argue the reasons why a movie should follow a book as closely as possible, and it would be a matter of opinion. But as a Biblical purist, it becomes much more of a question of what did God really say, especially if a movie is being hailed as "faithful."
So how exactly did The Star condense and shift incidents from the Bible? According to the reviews at Movieguide and PluggedIn:
- When Mary tells Joseph that she is carrying the Son of God, he is confused, but seems more overwhelmed by his own insecurities than the belief that Mary betrayed their betrothal vows (granted, the idea of the virgin birth has always been a tough one to handle with children).
- King Herod (not Caesar) orders a census.
- Herod's census is ordered with the intent of finding the prophesied Messiah, a search that somehow leads his soldier to Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph have already left for Bethlehem. The donkey, Bo, catches up with Mary and Joseph to warn them of the danger to their unborn child.
- The star seems to have appeared nine months before the birth of Jesus, not two years before the Magi arrive.
Just to be clear - I am not really concerned about the whole idea of speculating about what could have been that the nativity narrative omits. I'm not even upset about the idea of animals in this movie. Obviously, animals don't talk. Obviously, this is a literary device to tell the story. It's not even a new one - the idea of animals talking at Christmas has been a fun story element for a long time (and honestly, Nester the Long-Eared Donkey will always be one of my favorite Christmas stories). But the fact that the story glosses over or changes clear historical facts bothers me.
And this matters for four important reasons.
It matters because the first Christmas is not just the "most beloved story" in history - it IS history.
Jesus was really born in a real place (Bethlehem, the Roman empire) to real people (Mary and Joseph) in a real time in history (during the reign of Caesar Augustus). Galatians 4:4 says, "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son." Most Biblical scholars understand that phrase "when the set time had fully come" not only to be the fulfillment of prophecy, but also that there were certain real historical conditions present during the first century that made it the ideal time for the Messiah to come.
It matters because real people responded in real ways.
Although Joseph certainly may have been overcome at the idea of raising the Son of God, the biblical account specifically says that his original response to Mary's news was his intention to divorce her because she seemed to have betrayed him. Touchy stuff for a children's story, yes, but another reminder that Jesus' coming was to real people and a real first century middle eastern culture - NOT 21st century America where we are obsessed with self-esteem and following our hearts. To ignore this and inject modern sentiments into an ancient account merely adds the the confusion that already exists at Christmas.
It matters because of who the Magi were.
Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. His coming was foretold in the Jewish Scriptures, and the first (and likely, only) people at his birth were his Jewish family and Jewish shepherds (Luke 2). The Magi, educated and wealthy Gentiles, came along much later - we don't know exactly when, but the star had appeared some two years before their audience with King Herod (which was after Jesus was born, not before - Matthew 2), and from the words used in Matthew's account, most biblical scholars agree that Jesus was not an infant when they arrived. And this matters because Jesus came first to his own people, and then to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). This was not an afterthought, as God always intended for Israel to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6), but that first Christmas belonged to his people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And He did it that way for a reason.
It matters because of the Word of God.
Much in our world these days is in disarray because people do not believe that God's word says what it says or that it means what it means. To embrace a movie that rejects and even changes what is in the Bible because it is uncomfortable or doesn't seem fit the movie's message (because having Mary and Joseph on the run from the beginning seems to be important to the plot) is dangerous theology. And how we view the Word of God and its demands for our lives is just as much a part of theology as the positive elements of this story such as forgiving one's enemies and trusting God's plan for our lives.
Before you say, "But what about [fill in the blank with another popular Christmas movie]," let me say that I am trying to use this filter with all of our entertainment this holiday season, even our Christmas carols. I don't want to get rid of the fun and fantasy surrounding this time of year, but where a movie or story or book or song claims to share the message from the Word of God, I want to know it is, indeed, the Word of God.
That is what I want to encourage you to do this year. Not to boycott certain movies or events - what you see is between you and your family and God, truly. But to be aware, and to be critical consumers of the media around you, whether it is a Hallmark movie or a classic or a Christmas carol. Not critical and judgmental of people, but critical of the message. What does is claim to be Biblical truth? What is true and what isn't? And teach your children to listen critically for truth and error, even during this magical seasons.
Because yes, it matters.