We wouldn’t have Christmas without the Annunciation. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says, the entire world held its breath waiting for Mary’s answer when the angel Gabriel asked her to be the Mother of God. Because of Mary’s “yes,” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on human nature, became a baby, grew up, and then offered his life for our salvation. All because of Mary’s “yes!”
Mary has been my companion this Advent in a special way; I’ve been meditating on all the ways she said “yes” to God throughout her life. We tend to think of her “yes” as a one-time response to an angel, when she very clearly received a message from God. But what about all the other times she said “yes”? What must it have been like to say “yes” to giving birth to Jesus while on the road, not even in an ordinary home?
So the five movies I picked this year for my segment of the Salt + Light Radio Hour — Christmas special!— all remind me in some way of Mary’s “yes”—of all the ways that Mary said “yes” throughout her life, because each time she said “yes,” her assent had consequences. What was she really saying “yes” to? (The Salt + Light Radio Hour will also be onscreen this year!)
5. Mary said Yes! to family, to a life of self-giving in and to her family.
A film that reflects this beautifully is Frozen (2013). Elsa is a very special older sister who makes several bad choices and ends up in serious trouble. Yet her sister Anna, who remembers who her sister really is and can see through all the ice to her sister’s heart, repeatedly gives up the easy way to help her sister for sheer love of her. Anna repeatedly chooses to love Elsa, at great cost to herself, over and over again, until the end of the film. (Of course the great music and snowman also make this a great Christmas film!)
4. Mary said “Yes” to becoming a mother in a very unexpected way.
The Blind Side (2009) is a powerfully moving film about a woman who takes in a homeless teen—someone whom the rest of the world sees either as a threat or as a throwaway. If all of this happened today, would Mary’s family have seen Jesus simply as an unwanted pregnancy?
3. Mary said “yes” to the hardships that would accompany becoming a mother before she was married to Joseph.
Where the Heart Is (2000) is not a family film, but it always makes me think of the Blessed Mother because, even though the young protagonist conceives her child in a way that wasn’t miraculous, she is abandoned by her boyfriend and left to fend for herself. If it hadn’t been for St. Joseph, this depiction of a penniless, pregnant young woman who lives out of a Walmart store until she gives birth to her child could have been Mary—all alone, with no resources. And yet, this young mother and child give so much back to the community in which they make their home.
2. Mary said “yes” to her God-given mission in great humility,
even though it is the greatest mission a human being could possibly have: to bring and reveal the Messiah to the world. There are so many movies that depict this…from the recent The Lego Movie to superhero movies, to the countless “underdog” films, but none so well as J.R.R.Tolkien’s hobbits.
The Middle Earth movies—starting with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and concluding in December with the release of the third hobbit movie—is all about humble hobbits who who unwittingly save the day with their humility, ordinariness, clearsightedness, and perseverance. I’m particularly thinking of Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring at the Council of Elrond, when the elven Lord Elrond makes it clear at the meeting that the Ring must be taken to Mordor to be destroyed for the good of Middle Earth. Everyone starts fighting about it, but no one volunteers…until young hobbit Frodo, the littlest, weakest character at the council, realizes that this must be his mission and he volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor, though he adds, “I do not know the way.”
Since the third hobbit movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, releases this week and has my favorite humble hobbit moment of the book, I’d encourage that as a great Advent/Christmas film as well, although I haven’t seen it yet (but will shortly).
1. Mary said “yes” to God’s call. I’m still waiting for a truly great film on Mary, but you may wish to choose one of the two Marian Biblical films that have come out in the past few years which reverently depict the life of the Blessed Mother. Both depict the humanity of the Blessed Mother and emphasize the oppression that Mary and the Holy Family must have experienced as poor Jews under the rule of the Roman Empire.
A. The recently released Mary of Nazareth beautifully depicts the life of Mary, with the recurring theme of the film is Mary’s “yes.” I’d identify Mary’s “Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord” as the key to the entire film’s “take” on Mary. While it’s obviously a lower-budget production (I found it to be like a series of holy cards or tableaux of scenes from the life of Mary), its 200 minutes offers plenty of inspiration for meditation, covering the early life of Mary up to Jesus’ Resurrection, including traditions about the early life of Mary.
B. The Natvity Story (2006) is the only recent feature film I know of that centers entirely around the nine months prior to Jesus’ birth, ending after the flight into Egypt. Many beautiful moments in the film give easy access to meditating on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. The focus of the film is a grounded view of Mary that doesn’t put her on a pedestal but reveals the great faith that she must have had. My favorite part of the film is the growing relationship between Mary and Joseph. Indeed, this is my favorite cinematic depiction of Saint Joseph—not to be missed if you’ve never seen it. Because of several scenes of violence (especially the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, which would be hard for younger children to watch), this is an excellent Christmas film for the family except for young children.