God delivers hope in the strangest ways. When we want hope, we look for it in large promises made by powerful people. But when God provides hope, it looks like a tiny mustard seed covered in dirt. Like a pinch of leaven in a batch of dough, kneaded to a rubbery lump and left to rise in the dark, God’s hope comes to unlikely people in unknown places. And with it comes a crisis.

That’s the story of Jesus’ birth, well told in New Line Cinema’s 2006, The Nativity Story. The gritty reality of a family from impoverished Nazareth, staggering under cruel Roman oppression, comes through like no other movie on the birth of Christ in recent memory. Nothing is romanticized. Cecil B. DeMille would not recognize the sets or the clothing. The cast learned how to use the era’s tools, build houses, crush grapes and olives, milk goats, and make goat cheese.

Everything feels authentic, including Ciarán Hinds’ (Star Wars, Game of Thrones) menacing, paranoid, ruthless Herod. He reminds us that evil is everpresent when God is at work. Nazareth’s Jews’ stifling legalism is also palpable as Mary returns, obviously pregnant, from her visit with Elizabeth. The three wise men provide comic relief and a cosmic perspective on the birth of the King of Kings. But Oscar Isaac’s smitten, conflicted, and finally, courageous Joseph is the hero of the story. His portrayal of Jesus’ adopted father is a beautiful example of the positive power of a good man who puts others before himself.

Sadly, the weakest performance in the film is Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary. It may have been the script, but her portrayal, while authentic in biblical detail, seemed flat. Still, her and Joseph’s steadiness in the crisis of faith created by God’s entrance into their lives is worth the Amazon rental price. It reminds us that that is how God works hope into our lives. Not in big promises made by influential people but through small acts of faith by regular people facing the crises of obedience.

The smallest of seeds an inch deep in the dirt. A pinch of leaven in the dough in the dark. The greatest of kings born in the most humble of places. That is how God does hope. Watch The Nativity Story and find your hope this Christmas.  

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