This festive season has seen an innovative, profound and highly successful new short film series hit the internet. Not another commercial Christmas ad, but a creative, deeply Christian but mercifully un-preachy exploration of the reason for the season. Meet the Nativity really is Christmas come early.
The brainchild of seasoned evangelist Glen Scrivener and his media group Speak Life, Meet the Nativity is a modern-day Christmas comedy, in which four individuals undergo mysterious encounters with the first century Nativity. We see the familiar scene of an awkward yet endearing family get-together, met with a fantastical, positively Narnian invasion of another world. It's witty and fun but not played just for laughs; its thoughtfully theological without becoming a sermon.
It's a balance not easily managed. People forget how hard it is to truly be funny – and comedy of course incorporates vast genres and tastes. It requires smart acting – kudos especially to Ant Joblin, the actor playing wonderfully awkward boyfriend Tom as he stumbles his way through Christmas with the could-be in-laws. The Nativity scenes are light too, without being silly or pantomime – as the story so often is made to be. The stable is approached with hushed reverence and wonder – but the 21st century figures have to be reminded that it's a human, accessible event too – a gift they're welcomed to embrace with joy.
Nativity's characters are drawn with care: they aren't just 2D props engineering us to a 'gospel message' – they and their human complexity are the story. Some love Christmas, others dread it – each has a specific journey to tread when they encounter the real thing in their back garden.
Whether the outsider wishing he was welcome, the energetic planner frustrated by life's surprises or the perfectionist desperately trying to keep up appearances and hide their vulnerability – the characters are endearingly familiar, they could be any of us.
Which leads to the other success of the series: it's really quite subtle. Scrivener has made separate videos which tell the 'story behind' each episode, pointing to their deeper meaning, but if you didn't see those (and they are excellent) then you're left to interpret yourself. Which is good, because its well attested that 'Christian' creative works can too easily trade on sentimentality and an explicit 'come-to-Jesus' moment. This is more like CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or Tolkien's Lord of the Rings – there's depth to be mined but its not forced on you. The meeting of 1st and 21st century worlds is in one sense a fantasy – but of course its also profoundly real: the radical availability of encounter with the incarnation is the Christian story. This 'magical realism' provides an imaginative and subversive apologetic for faith, inviting people to participate in a story they might not believe in – but by the end might wish they could believe in.
All this is good news to celebrate, especially in a post-Christian age that's increasingly unaware of or indifferent to the faith. Its also a cynical era wearied by a poisonous political division, social media anxiety and an epidemic of loneliness, to name a few ills. People want good news, Christians have a beautiful story to tell. The talented team behind Meet the Nativity are telling it anew, with wisdom, wit and timely Christmas magic.
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