Becky GarrisonLike many journalists and Christian clergy, I had the privilege of watching a screening of The Nativity Story prior to the film’s national opening on December 1, 2006. Yes, this movie is Hallmark-y as all get out, and at times the actors are hampered by having to speak in this rather stilted Mediterranean inspired dialogue.

What rang true for me, though, was the depiction of Mary as a young giggling teen, who was dealt two whammies – first, she’s told here is the older dude her parents have decided she’s going to marry. As she’s reeling from that bit of bad news, the angel Gabriel stops by to inform her that even though she’s sworn to be chaste for a year, she’s going to be pregnant with God’s son. As expected, her community reacted with the same scorn and distaste towards this unwed teen that certain Christian circles today would display towards a woman they found to be guilty of a sexual sin.

Through this couple’s eyes, I saw how these two ordinary people, who barely knew each other, fell in love as they ventured on an extraordinary journey that would change humankind. Also, I appreciated that unlike other lily white adaptations of the life of Christ, Keisha Castle-Hughes (Mary) is Maori, Oscar Isaac (Joseph) is Guatemalan, and most of the major roles feature actors are of Iranian, Israeli, Sudanese, and Algerian descent. Finally, Hollywood gave us a biblical cast that looks like they might have actually lived in the Middle East (the notable exception being the Northern European looking baby Jesus).

As I prepared to write my reflections on this seemingly sentimental yet sweet flick, an email hit my inbox advertising all the promotional opportunities available to congregations. I began to experience a bit of déjà vu from The Passion: Not only were both these films shot on location in Matera, Italy but it also looks like we’re headed for yet another Hollywood style, full-frontal marketing blitz targeted towards Christian churches.

As noted in their pamphlet Experience the Nativity: Beyond the Movie, “This movie is a reminder that real Christmas miracles aren’t found under the tree, but in the hearts of people touched by God.” While that may be the case, their PR machine would make any secular retailer proud.

Thanks to the savvy folks at Outreach, clergy can download a host of communication and marketing tools to get the word out about this flick to their flock. The freebies include such items as movie posters, sermons, video clips, and even an Informational PowerPoint presentation. While the 8-page evangelistic pamphlet can be downloaded gratis, it costs $17.50 for a set of 50 booklets. The outreach books and Bibles, direct mail postcards, bulletin shells, door hangers, invite cards, and bookmarks seem to be within a reasonable price range.

But now we come to the church decorations. And here’s where I gotta ask WWMJD (What Would Mary and Joseph Do)? Given the movie’s simple yet steadfast depiction of their faith, something tells me they’d run back to Nazareth lickety split at the sight of such spiritual sappiness. Let’s be honest. Can’t a church find another way to promote Christ without resorting to an indoor or outdoor banner that ranges in price from $89 for the 2’x8′ indoor banner available in fabric, plastic or vinyl to the 8′ x 12′ backdrop banners perfect for any church stage, classroom or hallway at a cost of only $599?

Instead of plunking down the big bucks for this Jesus junk, how about purchasing the Alternatives for Simple Living‘s “Whose Birthday is it Anyway?” ecumenical resource that’s full of ideas of how to simplify Advent and Christmas. Then carry the real Christmas spirit further with the Buy Nothing Christmas Campaign. And don’t forget next year to join Shane Claiborne’s gang of USAantiheroes and celebrate Buy Nothing Day (the Sunday after Thanksgiving).

After all, Mary and Joseph gave us the greatest gift of all. What more do we really need?

Becky Garrison is the Senior Contributing Editor for The Wittenburg Door and author of Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church.

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