In 2006 I wrote the following as one of my columns for the Tampa Tribune
and thought I’d share it here, too:
When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along, an adventurous woman grabs it. In April 2001, my 275-pound dog was invited to appear on Live with Regis and Kelly. My husband said it was a crazy idea, but we cleared our calendars and flew to Manhattan to bask in our mastiff’s fifteen minutes of fame.
Last week, another unusual offer presented itself: would I like to attend the national premier of The Nativity Story in Hollywood? You bet. I cleared my calendar and spent a few days agonizing over what to wear, then jetted off to Los Angeles to mingle with the glitterati gathered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Why me? I’d like to think it’s because I’m an adventurous woman, but the real reason lies in my work. I’m a novelist by profession, and last May my publisher offered me a rush project. They had partnered with New Line Cinema to produce books based on The Nativity Story film: a gift book, a book for the advent season, and a novel. My job, if I chose to accept it, would be to turn the film’s screenplay into a novel over the next sixty days.
I leapt at the chance. I love historical fiction, and I had recently written a novel about Mary Magdalene, so first-century research was still rattling around in my brain. And who wouldn’t love to tell the story of what is arguably the greatest miracle of all time?
So in early June I settled down with my reference books and Mike Rich’s excellent screenplay. I was wary at first—Hollywood has made biblical movies before, and sometimes the finished product bears little resemblance to the historical record of Scripture. But Rich’s screenplay was right on the mark—except for a slight tightening of the probable timeline, his script was historically and biblically accurate.
For the next few weeks I slipped into the minds of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. I studied expert works on first-century culture and tried to fill in the missing details of the accounts we read in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. While I wrote in my office, the cast and crew filmed the movie in exotic foreign locations like Italy and Morocco.
After meeting my deadline, I moved on to another project. I tried not to think about the upcoming movie, and when someone suggested that I might be invited to the premier, I laughed and said I wasn’t counting on it.
My novelization of The Nativity Story released in early November, and the film’s world premier took place at the Vatican on November 26th. More than seven thousand people saw the movie, and I’ve heard that the audience burst into spontaneous applause at the moment of the baby’s birth.
Two days later, I attended the film’s national premier in Hollywood. With representatives from my publisher, I walked over the red carpet outside the theater, then we made our way to our seats. I watched, amused and amazed, as Hollywood gathered to watch a reenactment of an amazing story.
For years, my slogan as a writer has been “expect the unexpected.” The Nativity Story fulfills that slogan beautifully, but not by human design. In the story of Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and Elizabeth, God demonstrates that he delights in doing what he promised, but in surprising ways.
With the words of the prophets firmly in mind, the people of Isra’el were expecting a messiah from David’s lineage, a leader who would vanquish their enemies and secure the peace. They waited for a brilliant, charismatic warrior-king who would cleanse the land of the Roman occupiers and establish his throne on Mt. Zion.
What did they receive? A baby, born among livestock and nestled in a feeding trough. A child safeguarded by an adoptive father from David’s lineage, but far removed from kingly wealth and power. An infant born to a teenaged girl rumored to be pregnant before her betrothed husband took her home to be his wife.
The people of Isra’el were expecting a conqueror—they received a child who grew to maturity and died at the hands of Roman executioners. The world longed for a prince of peace and received a Jewish rabbi whose revolutionary precepts have, as he predicted, divided fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. But for those who regard the manger with eyes of faith, the child of Christmas is everything the world expected and more.
Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the magi—since I have spent a little time in their minds and hearts, they will never again be icons for me. They are the most adventurous people I’ve ever known.