By Elisa Morgan
Elisa Morgan is one of my favorite Bible teachers, and she does not disappoint in this slim but potent volume on the lessons we can learn from the characters of the Christmas story.
Morgan adds rich historical and cultural details to the ancient people we read about usually only once a year.
Take Mary for example. “Likely she was from a peasant class of agricultural workers that endured the triple tax burden of Rome, the Jewish temple, and Herod.” Joseph, whom I have always thought was older, was probably only eighteen, the average age of betrothal for men. Morgan also points out that in naming Jesus, Joseph in effect adopted him.
The Magi have always fascinated me, and in this book I am reminded that they weren’t “kings” or from “Orient” at all; there may not have even been just three of them. Most intriguing, “these men from the East employed a skill that would be from the dark side,” Morgan writes. They were astrologers, not astronomers as is so often the tale told. Yet God used these star-gazing, Gentile foreigners in a mighty way as they fervently sought the royal baby via a star, and then fell down and worshiped him.
Each character in the narrative leading up to and after Christ’s birth was shaped by Christmas. Mary accepted. Joseph yielded. Zechariah believed. Elizabeth rejoiced. The shepherds shared the Gospel. Simeon waited. Anna worshiped. The Magi sought after truth. Even Herod’s story yields a lesson in what not to do. Instead of learning from Christmas, Herod rejected it and his life was a disaster.
As she wraps up each character’s encounter with Christmas, she invites the reader to accept, yield, believe, and so on. Morgan winsomely weaves in stories from her own Christmases and how she has learned to be shaped by Christmas, not just in December, but all year long. “Let us then watch for—and welcome—the continuing Christmas,” she writes. “Emmanuel. God is with us. Because Christmas isn’t over. Christmas never ends.” (Our Daily Bread)
If you are looking for something cute to watch during Christmas break, but you can’t handle Hallmark’s factory of green screen schmalz, I recommend The Noel Diary, a Netflix Yuletide bon bon that is sweet but won’t send you into a sugar shock. Adapted from a Richard Paul Evans book of the same name, The Noel Diary stars This Is Us’s Justin Hartley as Jake Turner, a famous novelist living a lonely life with his dog, Ava. When his mother’s lawyer calls to tell Jake that she has died, Jake returns to his hometown after 20 years to confront his painful past. As he is going through his mother’s possessions, a woman named Rachel (Barrett Doss) drops in, seeking information about her birth mother, who, as it turns out, used to be Jake’s nanny.
Get your hot cocoa water boiling, because things are about to get cozy and maybe a little bit marshmallow-y (and by that I mean sweet and squishy). With themes of adoption, family estrangement, and healing, and coming to terms with one’s original community, The Noel Diary presents a compelling, touching story that winks just a little bit at its own genre. Hartley is a deft, subtle actor, though this movie will not win him any awards. His chemistry and banter with Doss charms and delights. I’m not going to lie—I loved every minute of it. It’s the perfect little seasonal treat—marshmallows optional. (Rated TV-PG, Netflix)
Does Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” really need yet another retelling? Why yes, yes it does, especially if this adaptation stars two of the most likable stars in Hollywood, Will Ferrell as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Ryan Reynolds as Ebenezer Scrooge-like social media mogul Clint Briggs. Ferrell, who can play goofy-but-deep like none other, is contemplating retiring from the afterlife and stopping saving selfish souls at Christmas time. However, he has at least one more gig to undertake—attempting to help an “unredeemable”—Clint—find his way back to giving and loving after an adult life lived entirely for his own gain.
Together, Ferrell and Reynolds are magic, singing, dancing, and being snarky yet lovable with their effervescent banter. The music is surprisingly good and has some elite Broadway bona fides: The songs are written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote songs for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” and the movies “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”
With Octavia Spencer on hand as Clint’s endearing assistant, the cast is rock solid, and the message—that no one is irredeemable–is even stronger. ( Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements. In theaters and stream on Apple TV+)