Saying yes when the Divine touches down on Earth
Written by Steve Norton
At Christmas time, I think we all want to believe in miracles.
Whether or not you grew up in the church, we all love to hear stories about believing in the amazing and hoping in the mysterious.
But, in our day-to-day lives, things are a little different. Faced with the trials and injustices of life, miracles seem distant (and even a little outdated). After all, we’ve seen enough damage to know we’re not in control. And it shows up in our stories.
Take Nope, for instance. Like filmmaker Jordan Peele’s other work, Nope is thrilling, smartly-written, and celebrates the Black community and their experiences. Embedded within the story are some fascinating social commentary, this time focusing on pop culture and our obsession with fame. But one of the most interesting aspects of the film is that it takes an encounter with the mysterious and makes it into a monster.
Nope tells the story of OJ and Emerald Haywood, two siblings who handle horses for films and TV shows. Despite their Hollywood connections, the two are relatively unknown and find themselves struggling financially. As such, they begin to wonder if it’s time to sell off their business (and their beloved animals) in order to pay the bills.
However, when a strange unidentified flying object begins targeting their horses, they realize that the only way to save their farm is to embrace their fear and capture footage of the UFO so that they can have their “Oprah moment.”
In a lot of ways, this type of fear plays heavily within the Christmas story. Faced with an encounter with the Divine, everyone who comes in contact with an angel is immediately shaken. The shepherds drop to the ground in terror. Joseph threatens divorce. Mary is “greatly troubled.” (There’s a reason that the angels keep having to say, “Don’t be afraid.”)
But in Nope, we see a very different picture of what it means to come face to face with the mysterious. Without giving any spoilers, the Haywoods’ unwelcome visitor fills them with dread. The siblings become angry and afraid. “What do you call a bad miracle?” OJ moans.
But quickly, fear gives way to a desire to control. They want to take ownership of the moment to gain fame and save their business.
The mysterious becomes the marketable.
While OJ and Emerald look for ways to own their fate, the players in the Christmas story lean into the miraculous moment. Despite their fear, they all understand that this encounter means something important. Something that’s bigger than they are.
Let’s focus on the shepherds for a moment. During the first century, shepherding was a line of work for those that couldn’t find anything else. These were social outcasts who spent their nights fending off wolves and making sure that the animals under their care didn’t wander off.
As a result, shepherds were generally uneducated and unruly folk, looked down upon by those who had taken more respectable lines of work. Just like OJ and Emerald, they’ve been relegated to the sidelines of society, caring for animals that few actually care about.
So, imagine their terror when their silent night was interrupted by a chorus of music-blaring angels. Dropping to their knees and covering their faces, they likely believed they were going to die. One would entirely understand if this herd of scruffy, night watchmen high-tailed it out of there as fast as possible. But, strangely, the mood changes from fear to excitement.
The arrival of the divine chorus becomes a moment of recognition.
Though society had forgotten about them, they had not been forgotten by the God of the universe. The arrival of Christ shakes the world’s power structure, reminding those the world deems insignificant that they matter to Him. After all, they had been chosen for the guest list of the grandest birthday party of them all!
And instead of this becoming a moment of arrogance, it inspires humility. Rather than running away screaming, they run towards the manger celebrating.
Although OJ and Emerald believe that hope stems from their ability to secure their own legacy, these lowly shepherds know that it’s the legacy of a long-prophesied child that gives them hope.
The miracle of the birth of Christ is it announces that things are different now. Like the shepherds before us, we’ve all been invited to the manger because we all matter to Him. And this party is simply too good for us to say no to the invitation.
About the Movies for Advent series:
This year for Advent we’re looking in unexpected places for the themes and meaning of Nativity. We all have our favourite Christmas movies, and we know what to expect from them, but when it came to the waiting of the ancient Israelites, the burdens Mary and Joseph had to bear, or the road that led to Bethlehem—these suggest stories of a different type. And so, we’re going to seek out those stories and discuss them together!
Each Friday in Advent, “Behind the screens” columnists Adam Kline and Steve Norton, along with guest writer Jason Tripp, will each take turns reflecting on the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent.
This series complements weekly virtual meetups where you can discuss four different films and related themes and scriptures. These Gatherings are hosted by the Free Methodist Church in Canada and New Leaf Network.