Sunday, December 24, 2006

poor planning

I saw The Nativity Story yesterday with the kids. Not the best bit of film making ever, but a good movie, much better than the nativities of my youthmore earthy, dusty. It made the story of the Advent very large and real. It's probably just my lack of imagination, but when I saw Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary and the others in my mind's eye, it was one dimensional. Seeing them in their natural settingtheir rocky towns, their fields of wheat, their dusty highways, their sneering townsfolk, their Roman overlordsfor me took it off of the flannel graph and onto the cosmic stage of Reality.

But the oddest thing was rolling around in my head as I sat there watching this beautiful story unfoldtwo words: poor planning.

I mean, couldn't God have planned it a little better? First of all, God waits until after Mary is "betrothed" to Joseph to tell her (ask her?) to become pregnant as a virgin. (I understand in their culture "betrothed" meant you were married except for conjugal rights.) Next, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, who knows immediately that she's pregnant, and goes back home when she's showing. That goes over real great with Joseph, who has no clue until this point, so the same angel shows up again to comfort (apologize to?) Joseph with the news that his "wife" really has been faithful to him, still is a virgin, and this pregnancy indeed is from God like she says. Oh. Well, thanks for the heads up. I mean, would it have killed you to tell me this ahead of time? But wait. Now there's this census and everyone has to travel back to the city of their ancestor with their family (!) to be counted, which at this juncture will put Mary at about 9 months. Even if God doesn't know the future, doesn't he know what's going on in the world today? Surely this census had been brewing for some time. It takes more than a phone call to pull one of these things off when you've got a whole world to count without computers. And it's great to have visitors when you have a new baby, but shepherds? These guys are the basest, dirtiest, stinkiest, most unwelcome types for a baby shower. (And here's where the movie departs from the bible version where the wise men weren't there until laterit was just shepherds.) It almost seems like an afterthought, like "I've got this incredible joy in the birth of my only son that I've been anticipating since the foundation of the cosmos, but I forgot to invite anyone to come and see his birth. Wait, it's not too late. Let's round up some shepherds in a field nearby. They're always looking for some excitement." And then they make it to Bethlehem according to plan, except by now the town's full, and from the best I can tell, either they got there at night just in time for a lightning fast delivery, or else Joseph had some real sorry relatives, because they end up setting the baby in the manger (stable?) "because there was no room for them in the inn." And now all their travails are turning to joy at the birth of their child, but before they can get settled in real good in Bethlehem, the angel show up in another dream to warn them of an imminent danger, advising them to flee to Egypt. Egypt?! Yeah. All the babies two and under in the whole region will die because of Jesus, and the angel wants to make sure they don't die for nothing. It really seems like this angel's job in life is disaster recovery. Joseph ends up having two more dreams before they finally get back home.

I mean, when you step back and think about it, couldn't a little planning have gone a long way?

The best thing about the movie for me was Joseph. I love his character and love the way it was acted. Such a good man. His most memorable line for me was on their hard journey to Bethlehem. He feels so inadequate and tells Mary, "I don't think I'll be able to teach him anything." And then I saw him rationing his bread, sharing some with his donkey so it would have the strength to go the distance with the ones he loved. Or even before that when he came to Mary, who everyone would stone for her adultery, and took up for her. And I wondered if Jesus didn't learn something from his earthly father after all.

You know, maybe I'm being unfair with God about the planning thing. Maybe lack of planning is the plan. Maybe God likes to wade into things like that, and maybe he looks for people who are willing to do the same, to go without a plan, perhaps without even knowing where they are going. Maybe God doesn't understand his job to be smoothing out the speed bumps and filling in the potholes in my life through proper planning. Maybe Jesus was serious when he said, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." And when I read that, I wonder if Jesus didn't learn something from his heavenly Father after all.