We lead fairly schizophrenic lives during the Christmas season in America. Our popular holiday rituals are bifurcated between the sacred and the secular; between the very worldly commercial extravaganza of Christmas as offered by our department stores -- when they have the guts to employ the word "Christmas" -- and Christianity celebrating the birth of Our Lord.
Hollywood hasn't been so split on this question. It is firmly ensconced, and comfortable, in the secular world. Year after year, it offers commercial Christmas movies this time of year, with Grinches and Rudolphs, good Santas and Bad Santas, the Kranks and the Muppets. We've been Scrooged, been on Christmas Vacation and taken rides on the Polar Express. We've seen the Christmas-as-a-backdrop movies like "Home Alone," which, like so many others, might offer something about the Christmas "spirit," but wouldn't dare to touch the Birth of Christ itself.
No, what we haven't seen in decades from Hollywood is a reverent recounting of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. But the void is now filled. New Line studio is set to release a movie to retell that tale. It's simply called "The Nativity Story."
The pre-publicity storyline is easily written: Hollywood saw the box-office receipts of "The Passion," looked around for another storyline to attract that long-forgotten demographic, and is going back to the Christian audience for some very profitable seconds. It's clear that New Line hopes for that response, since all the graphics and colors -- and even the soundtrack of the film and its promotions -- make it look like Mel Gibson prepared a prequel.
Unlike other movies that some in the media comically have claimed might rub off some "Passion" magic as they trashed and satirized Christians, "The Nativity Story" is reverent, generally true to the Gospel and a moving experience for the Christian faithful. It reminds the audience that these distant figures in the stained glass window were real humans with real struggles and real suffering, and responded to their calling with timeless devotion to their creator.
Those looking for the standard Hollywood fare will be disappointed. The story of Our Lord's passion is packed with drama and violence -- and similarly, though to a far lesser extent, are these elements present in the story of the birth of Christ. But whereas "The Passion" is replete with conflict -- the essential ingredient in the Tinseltown soup -- the story of the birth of Jesus has none of it.