Mention the name Martin Scorsese and the image of rough-and-tumble movies (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas) pops up.
So when my wife, 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter sat down to watch Hugo on DVD together, I was excited because this was the first family-friendly Scorsese flick ever! I was not disappointed. We were riveted. Even my youngest, who is normally squirmy, and up and down and up and down was glued to the couch.
Based on Brian Selznick's 2007 novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the story centers on 12-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas)—an an orphan living in the bowels of a busy 1930s Paris train station.
Hugo fixes things and keeps the train station clocks running for his uncle—skills he learned from his father (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes), a clock maker and tinkerer. The only thing that Hugo has left that connects him to his now-dead father is an automaton (mechanical man) that doesn't work without a special key, which he doesn't have. Hugo needs to find that key to unlock the secret he believes it contains.
The Muppets have not seen the big screen since 1999's Muppets from Space, so Jim Henson's lovable creatures were long overdue to return to the cineplex.
In The Muppets, a fan named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz, It's A Big Big World) is on a backlot tour at the old Muppet Studios while on vacation in Los Angeles with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother), and Mary, Gary's girlfriend (Amy Adams, Julie & Julia).
No longer in business, the Muppets have all moved on—scattering to the ends of the earth to pursue their dreams, leaving the studio to slowly rot in disrepair. After sneaking off during the tour to take a closer, unauthorized look at Kermit the Frog's former office, Walter is almost discovered by ornery, disagreeable old Muppet characters Stadtler and Waldorf as they conduct the surreptitious presale of Muppet Studios to oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, The Bourne Supremacy) who, unbeknownst to them, has discovered oil under the property and plans to tear the studio to the ground and drill.
After Walter informs Gary and Mary of the plot, they decide to go find Kermit and tell him of the impending sale. Kermit decides that if they can put on one more show and raise $10 million, they could make enough money to save Muppet Studios. All they have to do is round up the rest of the Muppets. The Great Gonzo is the CEO of Gonzo's Royal Flush, where they make toilets. Fozzie Bear performs in a Reno casino with a group of Muppet impersonators called the Moopets. Animal works at a celeb anger management center. On the other side of the pond, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor for Vogue Paris a la The Devil Wears Prada.
Can they pull together a show in time to save the old theater? Hilarity ensues. We've all grown up with The Muppet Show or its reruns. We know what to expect. This is classic Muppets, and it doesn't disappoint. Yes, the humor is corny. Yes, there are Muppets flying through the air, crashing into things, explosions, comic fighting and general goofiness. If you're looking for serious, you won't find a drop of it anywhere in this tale.
Are you thirsty for a little adventure? How about a mysterious sunken ship? Maybe being kidnapped and loaded on to a freighter bound for ...? Want to attempt to refuel a single-engine airplane in-flight? From a bottle? And, even better—pirates.
If you answered yes, The Adventures of Tintin is your ticket. Based on a series of Belgian comic books from the 1940s, the story, set primarily in Europe, centers on Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell, King Kong), a young journalist famous for solving crimes.
The movie begins with Tintin—his trusty and amusingly perceptive dog, Snowy, at his side—perusing a local outdoor marketplace, where he spies a stunningly detailed model of an old three-masted ship set for sale. He haggles the price, pays for the man-of-war model and takes possession. Within seconds of purchase, a man with an unscrupulous look about him named Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig—the current James Bond) appears—offering a large sum in exchange. Tintin refuses the offer, setting him up for an adventure of intrigue, danger and treasure.
From the start, Tintin pulls you in with its seemingly non-stop action. As the starting credits roll, you are entertained by little animated snippets of Tintin and Snowy in some of their comic book adventures. These are fun, but when the show really starts, you forget all about the credits.
Initially, my brain had some difficulty with the incredibly detailed animation that director Stephen Spielberg was throwing at me. The Adventures of Tintin is Spielberg's first stab at motion-capture filmmaking, and with "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson working with him as second-unit director and producer, the film elevates the high-tech technique to a new level.
Reminiscent of the motion-capture treatment of The Polar Express, The Adventures of Tintin is a visual buffet of detail and realism with just enough tweaks to let you know it's not truly real. I actually missed some of the initial dialogue because I was concentrating so hard on the incredible realism before me on my living room screen. I actually had to start the DVD over to catch what I missed.
With a hint of Indiana Jones in its DNA, The Adventures of Tintin is a fun, fast-paced flick that any kid will enjoy, although some of the lines are above his or her head. You can tell that although the film garners a PG rating—for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking—it's really geared toward the teen and above crowd in the same way that Bugs Bunny jokes mean one thing to a kid and something totally different to an adult.
The Adventures of Tintin features a very strong moral, redemptive message with clear and allegorical Christian content, including references to St. John the Evangelist, light bringing truth and good defeating evil. Bonus features: Along with the DVD and digital and UltraViolet copies, the two-disc set includes a 90-minute, 11-part making-of documentary.
Content Watch: The Adventures of Tintin features some mild language and scenes of stealing by a pickpocket. Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis, "Lord of the Rings" series) is a drunk, so there is a lot of situations where his alcoholism causes problems. His drinking is never glamorized, although it does drive some of the comedy. In fact, Tintin attempts several times to help him get sober. There is an obvious lesson on how alcohol can ruin a life.
Out of all the survival reality shows, Man vs. Wild—the Discovery Channel television series featuring Edward "Bear" Grylls—is my favorite.
I especially like Man vs. Wild because Bear, with his cool British accent, engaging personality and clever demonstrations with survival techniques when faced with nature's extremes, is a committed Christian.
Although Bear was recently let go from Man vs. Wild, that's a story for another time, my two older boys (10-year-old Alex and 9-year-old Andrew) and I still enjoy the show and the Man vs. Wild Game on the Wii.
The game offers in a role play-style adventure, which requires puzzle-solving tasks throughout five expeditions—stranding players in expansive areas of virtual wilderness and challenging them to make it out alive. The action begins when a player, as Bear, is dropped into extreme conditions and forced to demonstrate indigenous survival techniques such as escaping quicksand in the desert, exploring dangerous jungles, traversing ravines in the mountains and navigating some of the world's most treacherous waters.
I was disappointed when I missed Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close at the cineplex this winter, so I was eager to catch it on DVD.
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's acclaimed 2006 best-selling novel of the same title, the movie tells the story of a 11-year-old boy Oskar (Thomas Horn) who lost his jeweler father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), during what he calls "The Worst Day"—the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, although it failed to win, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a powerful drama that extols the bond between a father and son, family and forgiveness. A year after his dad died in the World Trade Center, Oskar, who has problems socializing and had been tested for Asperger's Syndrome, is determined to continue his vital connection to the man who playfully pushed him into confronting his wildest fears.
While looking through his father's closet one day, Oskar finds a small envelope marked "Black," with a key in it. Oskar decides the key must belong to someone named Black, and he starts a methodical search for the right person. "If there was a key, there was a lock," Oskar surmises. "If there was a name, there was a person."
His quest is an attempt to maintain his father's memory of his father, and to participate in the sort of mysterious search that his dad sometimes sent Oskar. "If you don't tell me what I'm looking for, then how will I ever be right?" Oskar asks his father. Thomas responds: "Well, another way of looking at it is how will you ever be wrong?"
As a movie buff, there are certain films that I consider traditional, yearly family must-sees—age and maturity permitting: Easter (The Passion of The Christ); Christmas (The Nativity Story,The Polar Express, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story); Memorial Day (Glory and North and South); and Veterans Day (Tora! Tora! Tora!, Saving Private Ryan and now I'm adding War Horse to the list).
Based on the Tony award-winning Broadway play and set against the sweeping canvas of World War I, War Horse tells the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and his young trainer, Albert (Jeremy Irvine). When they're forced apart by war, we follow Joey's extraordinary journey as he changes and inspires the lives of everyone he meets.
Some would say it's a formula movie designed to hold your heart for two-plus hours using every sort of cliche imaginable. Yeah, maybe ... fine. But it's also an fantastic story directed by the master Steven Spielberg and paired with a terrific score by another master himself, John Williams. I say it's a masterpiece that you get to watch with your kids.
The recipe for Wrath of the Titans: Fire. Stern looks of determination. Destruction.
Add some slimy underworld demons. Mix with an old, somewhat decrepit, dysfunctional family of Greek gods who still haven't figured out their personal differences—let alone the differences of the world. Did I say destruction?
Top it off with some loud roars of anger, more stern looks of determination, and an incredibly, unbelievable amount of computer-generated stones and rocks exploded, crushed and destroyed. Add lava and stir.
This fantasy film is a sequel to the equally destructive and surprisingly successful Clash of the Titans, released in 2010. Better CGI and 3D rendering make this installment easier to watch than the last, which was rebooted from the classic Clash of the Titans, released in 1982. This isn't a flick for those who love snappy dialogue and deep characters, but judging from the audience that loaded up the theater where I was screening, Wrath of the Titans will be a hit with the age 13-24 crowd.
Based on Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel A Princess of Mars, which inspired generations of filmmakers and science fiction writers, including George Lucas, James Cameron, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, John Carter—with its sweeping scope and $250-million budget—touches down in more than 3,500 screens this weekend.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, best known for directing the acclaimed and popular Pixar films Finding Nemo and Wall-E, the film comes across as a cinematic epic, seeking to rival movies such as Star Wars and Avatar with its look, feel and storyline.
John Carter tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), who is an honorable and courageous man. A veteran of the U.S. Civil War, he is broken—tired of fighting for the causes of others. His fighting spirit remains strong, but Carter has turned to self-interest, and he is done with war.
Green Lantern was part of a crowded superhero line-up at the cineplex last summer along the likes of Captain America, Thor and X-Men: First Class.
After recently catching the movie on DVD, I would have to say it's all flash, but no substance. The 3-D special effects are visually stunning and mesmerizing, but the storyline and premise is convuluted and weak. With a $200 million budget, Green Lantern fizzled at the domestic box office, ending up with only $114 million.
The plot centers on pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who is handed a mysterious ring by an alien whose spacecraft crashed on Earth. Hal soon learns that he has been selected for membership in the group of intergalactic peace officers called Green Lantern Corps, who promote peace, order and justice.
After, Hal recites the Corps' oath: "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, Green Lantern's light."
Great setup for a good versus evil tale, right? Not quite. The movie's protagonit is Parallax, the ancient enemy of the Green Lanterns who has garnered the corruptive yellow power of fear, threatens all of Earth. So Hal must build up the moral courage to stand up to evil.
While trying to master the Green Lantern ring, Hal has to deal with his feelings of insecurity from his pilot father's fiery death years earlier, affections for fellow pilot, Carol (Blake Lively), and the jealousy of Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a creepy old friend who has basically been possessed by another alien.
Although the story is fairly true to the characters from DC comics, the characters don't seem believable as they might. Extras on the Blu-ray version include the theatrical version as well as an extended cut, several featurettes and a digital comic book.
Content Watch: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, Green Lantern features more than two dozen profanities, several scenes that show people drinking alcohol and an implied night of casual sex. The movie's creepy villains could be very scary for small children. I watched the film on Clearplay, which filters out most of the intense violence and all of the light obscenities. I didn't watch Green Lantern with my three oldest boys, ages 10, 9 and 5.
Genuine intimacy is the cry of our nation. Many individuals search through multiple marriages trying to find the vital connection their souls long for. Still louder shouts the silence of the man or woman who has been married for decades and feels alone in that partnership.
Many feel they have done everything right at home and with their spouses, yet there is little or no intimacy. Far too many partners feel like roommates—as if they are just getting by emotionally. If fulfillment is promised, then why is it that few couples enjoy that impassioned connection?
I don't think this is God's plan for your marriage. He wants you to live the abundant life and to have a marriage full of joy and love—and this is what we're going to accomplish these next thirty days. We are going to make your marriage over into what God has designed for you and your spouse.
I have lived in the laboratory of other people's marriages for many years. In addition, I myself have journeyed from the inability to be intimate to a place of deep intimacy and great fulfillment with my wife, Lisa.
Early in my married life I had the feeling that I was surrounded by walls. I desperately wanted to step out from behind those walls but could not find a way to connect to my wife. God in His graciousness drew me into the field of marriage and family counseling, where I gained much understanding. Still, no one explained, These are the steps to intimacy: The mystery of intimacy and the skills required to build and maintain it continued to elude me—as it does for so many others in my field.
As a father of two, I'm always looking for a teachable moment. If you're smooth about it, your kids won't even know that you're instructing them on life.
Based on a children's book called The Borrowers, a popular title originally published in 1952 by British author Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty is one of those covert teachable moments—actually, it features several of them.
The movie was the year's top grossing film when it was released in Japan in 2010, winning the Animation of the Year award. Translated, dubbed by an American cast and distributed stateside by Walt Disney Pictures, The Secret World of Arrietty was made by legendary Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away and Ponyo).
Arrietty (voiced by Disney TV star Bridgit Mendler) is 4 inches tall. She and her family are Borrowers. They live in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper Haru (voiced by Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to "borrow" scrap supplies that their human hosts won't miss.
Arrietty is 14, and the limitation of her 4-inch stature means nothing to the girl. In Arrietty's eyes, the whole world is hers to explore, even if her easily agitated mother, Homily (voiced by Amy Poehler), and her father, Pod (voiced by Will Arnett), say otherwise. "Better be careful," they would warn, relating an oft-repeated story about a long-lost relative eaten by a frog.
One day, a boy arrives at the house. Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) is a sickly 12-year-old with a bad heart who has come to rest at his grandmother's house. He is supposed to have absolutely no excitement in preparation for a heart operation scheduled the following week or so. The first day, he spots Arrietty during one of her unauthorized forays into the real world and attempts to befriend her. Over the next few days, a secret friendship blossoms between the two—putting the lives of Arrietty and her family in danger.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, a true love story of a couple's Christ-centered commitment winds up shredded by Hollywood's moviemaking machine in this sign-of-our-times "chick flick."
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter's real-life story is one of sadness, true love, and God's grace and protection. The couple—whose inspirational account was first told in their 2000 book, The Vow (B&H Books), and now in a movie by the same name—never gave up on their marriage, despite tremendous obstacles thrown in their way.
After only 10 weeks of marriage, the Carpenters were involved in a life-threatening accident the day before Thanksgiving in 1993. Though Krickitt was given a less-than-1-percent chance to live, she eventually awoke from her coma. But Kim's excitement to have his wife back didn't last long: Krickitt had no memory of meeting him, getting married or going on their honeymoon. Doctors explained that the last year and a half of Krickitt's memory was gone and would possibly never return.
Throughout their struggles to restore the life they'd dreamed of sharing, the Carpenters clung to God and centered their broken relationship on Him. And through His goodness, they were able to save their marriage and push past Krickitt's memory loss and personality changes caused by her severe head trauma.
That's what happened in real life. Onscreen, however, it's a different story—literally.
The major motion picture, which hits theaters 16 years after the Carpenters signed over the rights to their story, is not only a prime example of what happens when a true story goes through Hollywood's fine-tuned moviemaking machine, it's also a tell-tale sign of our culture's modern fixation with antiheroes and not-so-happy endings.
Starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, The Vow had every opportunity to be a heartwarming romance to the likes of The Notebook—a broken man fighting for the woman he loves, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, it hardly measures up to the Carpenter's truly inspirational story.
The film is about Leo, a record studio owner, and Paige, an art student and sculptor. From flashbacks, we see the young couple happy and in love, with Leo constantly wooing his beautiful bride. But after the two suffer a car accident four years into their relationship, Paige wakes up with no memory of her husband. And it's at this point where the movie takes a major detour from the true story.
In fact, Paige has lost five years of her memory and last remembers being engaged to another man, Jeremy (Scott Speedman). She can't recall leaving law school to become an art student, meeting her husband or even that she's been estranged from her family for a number of years.
Although the relationship breaks down after the accident, the couple's fairy-tale romance is depicted in an enjoyable way through a series of flashbacks. The little snippets into their love story pre-accident portray two kindred spirits falling in love and getting married in the beautiful city of Chicago. Leo continues to romance Paige even after they're married, and she is clearly smitten.
But when Paige wakes up, her commitment to Leo has vanished. Although she briefly tries living with the husband she can't remember, the young wife quickly escapes to the comfort of her old life—ex-fiance and all. Leo fights for her, trying to help jog her memory with their wedding video, apartment and her art studio.
His attempts to win her back culminate with him taking Paige on a romantic date. Paige keeps her promise—which she doesn't recall making—to skinny-dip (wearing underwear) with Leo in Lake Michigan, and the couple even share a kiss or two. They really hit it off, and it seems their love story is back on track. But shortly after, Leo gives up on the woman he loves.
With all of the negative elements added to the story—Paige's controlling parents, the man she almost married trying to win her back and Leo's absence of a family—The Vow becomes another case of Hollywood furthering our culture's supposed preference for depressing endings in the name of "reality." Add to this a bedroom scene that features partial nudity, a rear-view shot of Tatum fully naked and an opening sequence graphically reenacting the auto accident, and this PG-13 film clearly proves it's not family friendly.
For all its changes from book to the screen, however, The Vow's most glaring omission is also the most important part of the Carpenters' real-life love story: their faith in God. To this day, Krickitt still can't recall an important segment of her life, yet she continues to remain faithful to the vow she made to her husband as she puts all of her hope and trust in God. She and Kim place their Creator in the center of their relationship and relentlessly work on recovering what they once had.
"We don't have a story without God. And that story really is about commitment—commitment to Him and commitment in marriage," Kim told the Christian Reader.
In a recent interview with The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.), Krickitt said: "I would love to say that I fell in love with him again because that's what everybody wants to hear. I chose to love him and that was based on obedience to God, not feelings."
Sadly, though not surprisingly, The Vow heavily focuses on the feelings and not at all on their obedience to God. In fact, the movie never even mentions God other than when characters—including the couple—take God's name in vain (along with using profanity).
Most people enjoy a movie more when they haven't read the story in a book. And that's obviously the case with The Vow, which misses out on telling a truly romantic—and yes, just as realistic—story without all the dark elements. Yet even for those who have nothing to compare it to, the movie still lacks the quality of romance (and acting) most chick flicks offer. While it offers plenty of awww moments and is sure to leave its (mostly female) audiences fawning over Leo's sweetness, this Vow ultimately breaks down in depicting a heartbroken husband winning back his wife.
Gina Meeks is an assistant editor for Charisma magazine.
The last few days I have been waking up thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. I kept hearing his "I Have a Dream" speech as I awoke each of the last few mornings. He is one of my heroes of the faith; a difference-maker, and a catalyst for good and for the generations. I asked the Lord if there was some further meaning to my thoughts about him. He said, "I gave him a dream, and I have given you a dream."
I decided to write out my dream in honor of one of my hero's dreams. Thank you, Lord, for Dr. King, who stood for You, stood for freedom and gave his life for the cause of that freedom. I write this in honor of him and the legacy he left for us all:
"I have a dream that one day the kingdom nation of God will rise up and live out the true meaning of Christ's all-consuming creed that fulfills all laws and prophecies with these words: 'The Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and also love your neighbor as yourself.
Guys who have been touched and challenged by the message of the faith-based police drama, Courageous, to become the godly influence in their home that God intended, have an opportunity to share it with others in a low-key way, starting tomorrow.
The hit movie from the makers of Fireproof releases on DVD, providing a great opportunity for men to host a small group viewing or invite non-Christians friends who may have felt uncomfortable going to see it in the theaters to watch together at home.
The makers at Sherwood Pictures—based at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.—have reported hundreds of testimonies of husbands and fathers who have been inspired to turn their lives over to God in a new way through the movie.
Among those who have written to the producers is Aimee, who told them: "I want to thank you for what you have done to my marriage. My husband is a police officer, so the movie particularly struck close to home. Not only has he stepped up to be what God intended him to be, he has given up addictions and vices that were crippling and shattering our marriage and the relationship he had with our kids."
Albert Narracott loved the thoroughbred horse from the moment he saw him. When his father purchased the animal in a moment of pride, Albert vowed to take care of him. He named his beloved horse Joey and instantly set to work on training him.
Set in Europe during World War I, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse follows Albert and Joey on an incredible journey of courage and adventure. Played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine, Albert teaches Joey how to plow his father’s field for planting, despite tremendous opposition from his family and townspeople who do not think the small mare has the stamina.
When Albert’s father, Ted Narracott, sells Joey to the British military in a moment of desperation, young Albert is devastated and pleads with the soldier who purchased Joey to let him serve alongside his animal. Capt. Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston, Thor) refuses because Albert is too young, but he agrees to return the horse when the war is over.
Albert soon finds out Capt. Nicholls has died in battle, and he fears Joey has met the same fate. But the brave horse makes his way through Europe as we watch him become acquired by German soldiers and then cared for by a young girl and her grandfather in France.
Joey is eventually dragged back into battle and forced to haul heavy artillery for soldiers intent on completing their mission with no thought to the consequences the horses face. Though the thoroughbred escapes, racing through ravaged lands, he entangles himself along the way in barbed wire fences.
As viewers, we’re taken through a gripping journey of triumph, sadness, hope and joy. Albert joins the war when he’s old enough in an effort to find his dear horse. With Joey’s tenacity and Albert’s love, it is hard not to believe these two will be reunited again—as impossible as it may seem.
Because it is set in the middle of WWI, War Horse features violence. Several battle scenes depict dead soldiers and horses strewn on the battlefield. Two German traitors are executed and throughout the film, horses are treated brutally. Albert is gassed in a battle scene, and afterward he is badly scarred around the eyes.
Spielberg puts his own touch on the film, based on a young adult novel that was adapted into an award-winning play. Though promoted heavily among the “faith-based community,” War Horse doesn’t contain overtly Christian messages beyond such elements as loyalty, friendship and laying down your life for another—even if it’s a horse.
Characters mention God a handful of times, as when a down-on-his-luck Ted Narracott tells his wife: “I used to believe God gave each man his fair portion of bad luck. Now I don’t believe that anymore.” And when Capt. Nicholls and Joey enter their first battle, the soldiers shout, “Fear God! Honor the King!”
Though Spielberg’s latest wartime project has a heartwarming message and contains no sexual content or noticeable profanity, the movie earns its PG-13 rating for intense battle sequences. Families with young children may opt to choose another movie on its Christmas Day release. But those with teenagers will enjoy the tale of a young boy and the incredible, unconditional love he has for a horse that is more friend than farm animal.
It has been said that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. This is certainly true of the birth of the Messiah, which we celebrate this month. One need only turn to the pages of the Old Testament to discover where, when, how and why Jesus of Nazareth was born.
Where would the Messiah be born? When Herod the Great sought to find the Messiah, he asked the Jewish religious leadership to discover where He would be born. They, of course, had the answer immediately: Bethlehem.
How did they know this? Because the prophet Micah had recorded this revelation hundreds of years earlier. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2, NIV).
There are two interesting points to this prophecy. First, the word Bethlehem is formed from two Hebrew words, bait ("house") and lechem ("bread"). It is no coincidence that Yeshua, the Bread of Life, was born in the town known as "house of bread."
Second, this verse has the fascinating statement, "Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." This prophecy reveals the amazing paradox that the Messiah would be born, yet He already would have existed! Only Yeshua, who John reveals was in the beginning with God and is Himself God (see John 1:1) could have fulfilled this.
When would the Messiah be born? To answer this, we have to turn to Daniel 9 (for further study on this chapter, I recommend Daniel's Prophecy of the 70 Weeks by Alva J. McClain, Zondervan). "The Anointed One will be cut off but not for Himself. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary" (see v. 26).
This clearly states the "Anointed One" (Mashiah, Messiah) would be "cut off," or killed, and that after this the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed. Daniel 9:26 foretells that the Messiah would die before the city of Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. It wasn't until A.D. 70--after Yeshua's crucifixion--that the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.
How would the Messiah be born? One of the great signs of Messiah's birth was that He would be born of a virgin. This concept comes from the Old Testament and ancient Jewish expectation. As Isaiah 7:14 promised us: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Those who argue against the virgin birth point out that the Hebrew word used here, almah, and translated "virgin" simply denotes a woman of marriageable age and not a virgin. Two things should be mentioned in response to this.
First, in the Septuagint--the translation of the Old Testament into Greek in 250 B.C.--the Jewish scholars chose to use the Greek word parthanos (the clear Greek word for "virgin") when they translated this passage.
Second, the origin of the virgin birth actually dates back to Genesis. Here, the Lord gives us His first promise to redeem mankind and informs Satan that at some point in time "the seed of the woman would crush his head" (see Gen. 3:15). He says "seed of the woman"--a strange phrase because "seed" is usually referring to the man.
Why would the Messiah be born? Again, the Old Testament has the answer. "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Is. 53:5)
Yeshua was actually born to die. He came to this earth, set an example for us of how to live, and then gave His life as an atonement for us.
What is most important about Christmas? That we remember the "reason for the season." This is a celebration of the Son of God. The incarnation of God Himself into human form has transformed time itself and has begun the process of redemption for all mankind.
Jonathan Bernis is president of Jewish Voice Ministries International and has worked on the forefront of world evangelism since 1984, taking the good news of Israel’s Messiah worldwide and to the Jewish people. He is the founding rabbi of Congregation Shema Yisrael in Rochester, N.Y., where he served as senior Messianic rabbi from 1984 to 1993. He also founded and pastored the Messianic Center of St. Petersburg, Russia, where he lived and ministered from 1993 to 1996.
I write this aboard a jet airliner speeding south from one of the nation’s greatest northern cities. I am heading home for Christmas.
How eager I am to see the face of my wife, embrace my now-grown children who are gathering at the old homestead, grab my little grandchildren and swing them high as they squeal: “PaPa’s home.”
How eager I am to sit quietly with my dear friends, my extended family, to embrace and whisper “I love you” in the ears of those as committed to me as they are to their own blood relatives. We will embrace, take off our shoes, sit in front of a fire (sipping egg nog), and feel “at home” in each other’s presence.
Home for Christmas! My oldest son will be driving through the night after finishing his work in the nation’s capital—joining his family in Florida. Our youngest daughter will fight the mobs which throng the airports, winging in from college in middle-America.
In all of our efforts to get home for Christmas, we touch others—desperate, happy, lonely, cheerful—thronging crowded terminals, all trying to make that mystical deadline.
What is it on this day that so drives us to be among loved ones?
Busy businessmen forget about buying and selling, creating and convincging, to lounge around the house with the family. Things like trade agreements, real estate deals, marketing and sales—all take a back seat to important things like carving the turkey and opening inane but precious gifts under a tree.
Dignified college professors, their cheeks ruddy and hair blowing in the wind, race up and down sidewalks, laughing and shouting as they hold on to small children riding bikes with training wheels.
Ranchers and dairymen quickly finish morning chores so they can take off muddy boots and join laughing families at Christmas breakfasts.
Computer experts, physicians, engineers—(all intellectuals, all degreed and pedigreed) sit cross-legged under trees, waist-deep in wrapping paper, turned into little children—at least for the day.
Gangsters, tax evaders, liars, drunkards, adulterers, prostitutes, even members of the Mafia—all turn aside on this day to kneel at altars and shed a tear in a communion cup for a baby in a manger.
Home for Christmas! Broken-hearted parents sit and wait by the telephone, anxiously scan the mail, hoping memories of Christmas past will stir the heart of a runaway child and bring word of safety.
Runaway children, some young, some very old, walk city sidewalks, huddle in lonely motel rooms, sit and stare in drab apartments on this, the loneliest day of the year—yearning for some power so they can hurdle the wall of pride and reach out for home.
Soldiers in far-flung military outposts, wet and cold, sweaty and sticky, stand lonely watch around olive drab vehicles or shiver in isolated guardhouses at the gates—all dreaming of home.
Airmen, cramped in the cockpits of flying cannons high in the darkened and silent skies on Christmas Eve, look upward for a star, then down over tilted wings at the winking lights below Misty-eyed, they dream of the touch of a mother’s hand, the warmth of a father’s chuckle, the squeals of little ones, cookies, candles and a choir singing “Silent Night.”
Home for Christmas? For many it is but an impossible yearning.
In hospitals, while suction machines whir and monitors beep, some fight for their lives. Christmas is but a card, a small wreath on a tray, or the gentle touch of a nurse’s hand to say,” I am with you on this day.”
In jails and prisons, men and women, black and white, lie on rusting steel cots facing concrete walls, or stare upward at gray ceilings where peeling paint covers faded obscenities written by those who walked this angry path before them. All, strong and weak alike, finally bury their faces in the mildewed canvas of a lumpy pillow and cry away the day.
Home for Christmas! In nursing homes, neglected and forgotten, the grand old people of this world reach out for a small group of strangers with cookies and carols, vainly look for comfort from an indifferent attendant bitter over a rotation system that forces her to work on a day when no person should work, struggle to hear a voice on radio or see a face on television—anyone who might bring a message of comfort and cheer.
The words echo from the centuries: God rest ye merry, gentlemen.
God rest ye merry? How can there be any merriment if we are not home for Christmas?
Why all this homesickness? Why does a cup of cold water seem so blessed on this day when loneliness sweeps the world like an epidemic?
Why do the Salvation Army lassies take on an almost saintly hhue as they ring their little bells? They, even if you do not, will try to provide a home for those not home for Christmas.
Could this homesickness be from God himself?
Is it possible that Jesus, lying in a bed of straw on Christmas Day, was homesick? Could it be the memory of heaven still lingered? Were some of those infant tears the same tears lonely men and women shed today—tears in memory of home?
This Christmas, missionaries will gather their families about them in heathen cities, will hang red and yellow decorations on banana trees, will walk through maddening Orient markets where the world roars by without even knowing the name of their baby. They are followers of Him—men on a mission.
So He came, to bring heaven to earth, to make the kingdom He had known and establish it on this planet.
Because of Him, men and women in many sectors of earth no longer throng taverns, no longer blast their brains with ungodly sound, no longer fill their bodies with chemicals. Because of Him children do not run away. Because of Him, no matter where we find ourselves on this Christmas Day, we will be home.
O tidings of comfort and joy!
Jamie Buckingham was senior pastor of the 2,000-member Tabernacle Church in Melbourne, Fla., a nondenominational church he founded in 1967. The former editor of Ministry Today magazine, he wrote dozens of books, including autobiographical works for Nicky Cruz (Run Baby Run) and Pat Robertson (Shout It From the Housetops). He died in 1992.
Dr. Doug Weiss is all about healing. He has devoted his life to healing the sexually broken. Through his work as a counselor and clinical psychologist as well as his many books, public speaking and numerous media appearances, Dr. Weiss has been able to help rescue thousands from sex addictions and other problems. He claims an 85 percent success rate. He personally understands sexual addiction, and has been successfully sober for more than 24 years.