4 Things You Should Know about Journey to Bethlehem

Mary is a young woman with big dreams. She wants to be a teacher. She wants to wed a man she loves. Most significantly, she wants to do those things in the distant future -- not right now. Her father, though, has different plans for her. He’s already found her a husband -- a kind, young local man in first-century Judea named Joseph. They’ll make the perfect couple, he says.

“I’m securing your future,” he tells her. Mary’s not crazy about the idea, but it’s too late. The wedding is being held in a few days. 

Can Mary learn to fall in love with a man she’s never met?

The new faith-based musical Journey to Bethlehem (PG) follows the well-known biblical story of Mary, Joseph, and their newborn, Jesus.

Here are four things you should know:

Photo credit: ©Affirm; used with permission.

1. It’s the First Musical From Faith-Based Affirm Films

1. It’s the First Musical From Faith-Based Affirm Films

You may not know “Affirm Films” by name, but you know its movies. Affirm is the company that helped make faith-based movies such as War Room, Fireproof, Overcomer, Courageous, Risen, Moms’ Night Out, Soul Surfer, The Star, and Big George Foreman. Affirm is a part of Sony.

Although Affirm has more than three dozen movies in its catalog, Journey to Bethlehem is its first musical.

Rich Peluso, head of Affirm Films, says the film is a “joyous and fresh take on Mary and Joseph’s journey” with “infectious music” thanks to an “insanely passionate vision of [director] Adam Anders.”

He said Affirm wanted to “come alongside and help turn this amazing story into a Christmas classic that will resound with young children, families, teens and adults.”

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/FOTOKITA

2. It Features Names You Know

2. It Features Names You Know

Fans of contemporary Christian music will recognize several names. For King and Country’s Joel Smallbone portrays Herod’s son Antipater, while CCM artist Moriah plays Deborah, a friend of Mary. Grammy winner and Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae portrays the angel Gabriel. All three are impressive.

Meanwhile, Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) portrays Herod, while Fiona Palomo (Outer Banks) and Milo Manheim (Thanksgiving) play Mary and Joseph, respectively.

Adam Anders, who received Grammy nominations in 2011 and 2012 for Glee and in 2013 for Rock of Ages, directed it and co-wrote the screenplay and the music. He produced music for such faith-based projects as The Passion (2016) and Son of God (2014).

Photo credit: ©Affirm; used with permission.

3. It’s the Nativity Story Set to Pop

3. It’s the Nativity Story Set to Pop

Journey to Bethlehem is advertised as a film that “weaves classic Christmas melodies into new pop songs in a music-infused retelling” of the Nativity. Thanks to Anders, the music soars.

The film opens with a catchy, pop-style version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." From there, Mary and her friends walk through the city streets as they sing an upbeat tune, "Mary’s Getting Married," even though Mary -- who doesn’t care for the betrothal arrangement and wants to be a teacher -- isn’t herself feeling so upbeat. The third song features Herod singing a dark, techno-infused song, "Good to Be King," which shows him walking confidently through his kingdom as he boasts of his power and land. Later, Herod’s son Antipater (Smallbone) sings the percussion-driven song "In My Blood," which matches the makes-you-want-to-dance style of Smallbone’s group For King and Country.

But not every song is pop. In "Can We Make This Work," Mary and Joseph sing a slow but powerful duet during their wedding ceremony, wondering how they can build a future when they barely know one another. In "We Become We," they join together in a sweet duet featuring playful tones and perfectly blend their voices.

The music, costumes, and sets in Journey to Bethlehem are, in one word, stunning. They’re every bit as good as what you see in more popular musicals.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/lukbar
4. It Can Spark Conversations

4. It Can Spark Conversations

The gospel story is at the center of Journey to Bethlehem. In the opening minutes, one of the Wise Men sees the star and asks his fellow Magic, “What mighty queen was chosen for this great honor, giving birth to the Son of God?” Gabriel tells Mary, “You are to be the mother of a Savior and King.” And in the closing minutes, the Wise Men and shepherds bow down to worship the Child who will grow up to save the world. It’s a film that can spark conversations about God, the Bible, and life’s ultimate purpose.

Before the film even begins, we are told it’s “inspired by a true story … the greatest one ever told.” When the film ends, we’re reminded that “while taking some creative license, the filmmakers strived to remain true to the message of the greatest story ever told.”

The creative license could also spark conversations -- among Christians who will debate what is permissible in a Bible-based project. Risen (2016), The Nativity Story (2005), The Prince of Egypt (1998), and The Chosen (2017-) all received high marks from churchgoing viewers despite their inclusion of content that’s not explicitly in Scripture. Making such a film is an art, not a science.

Journey to Bethlehem -- spoilers ahead! -- includes a few scenes of creative license. Mary initially rejects the idea of marriage. (Although, as we learn, she already had eyes for Joseph, even though she didn’t know his name.) Gabriel “practices” his lines. (Even though he quickly gets it together in time to deliver a powerful message to Mary.) Most significantly, Antipater and his soldiers find the stable with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child -- but Antipater opts not to have them arrested, even when told the baby is “the” one. (Mary also stands up to Antipater.)

Viewers will decide if those few scenes go too far. Overall, though, Journey to Bethlehem delivers soaring music with a powerful, life-changing message the whole world needs to hear. After all, she gave birth to the Son of God.

Rated PG for thematic elements. It includes no violence, sexuality, or coarse language.

Entertaining rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 4 stars.

RELATED: Hear from the film's producers!

Photo credit: ©Affirm; used with permission.



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