Did Satan Try To Kill Mary?

“And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.”

“You shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

“They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

This scene has been scrubbed so clean in our crèches and Christmas cards, that the question being begged is never so much as imagined: Why would anyone put a baby in a manger?

Women immediately post-partum hold their babies, nurse their babies, cuddle their babies, sleep with their babies in their arms. They don’t put them in feeding troughs. (Don’t get me started on the misstatement-that-won’t-die, that Jesus was “born in a manger,” as if Mary, full-term and ruptured, hopped into the cow trough to push.)

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Mary was exhausted from days of contractions while traveling in a wooden cart for a hundred miles at full term. That she was fatigued beyond all weariness from pushing for hours. There is no doubt Mary was extremely tired.

Even so: Joseph was there. Joseph understood the preciousness of this infant, the history-pivot of his birth. If Mary was so weak she could not even hold the baby she had ached to hold for the past nine months, she would have lain down on the ground, placed some cloth next to her for the baby to lie on and nursed him to sleep. This failing, Joseph would have held him, or lain down with him.

Unless something had gone very wrong.

Was Mary hemorrhaging? Having a seizure? The devil spent a good deal of time during the life of Christ trying to kill Him. Perhaps he started early. Failing to kill the baby with premature birth, sepsis, exposure, or any number of other possibilities in a time of high infant mortality, maybe he made an attempt on Mary’s life, to deprive our Lord of his mother: maybe she tore, maybe the placenta wouldn’t expel, maybe she was having an asthma attack. It could have been anything. It must have been something.

Yes, it’s a conjecture, but it’s a reasonable one. Satan tries to kill Jesus all through our Lord’s life, at least starting when Jesus is a toddler, and maybe earlier. Whatever the particulars, healthy mothers don’t put their babies in cow troughs.

The over-exhaustion idea doesn’t work for me, because when the shepherds arrive, Mary is awake, and it is not possible to believe that Joseph woke Mary out of a bone-weary exhaustion to tell her that a few strangers have arrived to see the baby.

And, note the statement made about the shepherds’ visit: they found “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Mary and Joseph are separate from the baby. Maybe Joseph is tending to Mary. Maybe one of the shepherds has some medical knowledge that would help her. One can imagine Joseph saying, “Thank God you’ve come—please help me!” (In spite of the “traditional understanding” that Joseph was an old man, it is more likely he was a young man with not a clue how to deal with childbirth.)

So maybe God sent the shepherds for Mary’s sake, to save her life so that she could mother the Son of God. And of course, shepherds know all about caring for newborn creatures. It would be fitting indeed if God sent shepherds who regularly delivered ewes on the field to care for the newly-born Lamb of God.

The shepherds’ visit certainly calmed Mary’s heart: could you slog through cow dung after a journey of a hundred miles, scream your way through labor, and then look at your baby lying alone over there, wrapped up in rags, and not feel abandoned by God? The visit of the shepherds assured Mary that God’s hand was right here, right now. Their visit was something she treasured all her days. Good Joseph was certainly greatly encouraged by the shepherds showing up with the story of a whole lot of angels shouting Glory to God, once again confirming the miraculous nature of this baby he was to father.

Childbirth is a loud, messy business. There’s very little silent-night-holy-night about it, especially when it occurs in a cattle pen, perhaps out in the open, surrounded by a lot of other travelers who are not happy about the screaming lady with no epidural a few yards away, followed after a while by a wailing infant, especially an infant who is not being tended, but put off in a trough.

There’s so much we don’t know about the birth of Christ, and this is instructive as to the story’s relative importance in the light of later events, because when it comes to the Crucifixion and Resurrection we know dates, times, places, names, exact dialogue, and even emotion. Here the description is far more spare, so we can’t be sure about much.

But I am certain about this: no woman willingly puts her newly-born infant in a feeding trough. In just a few verses in Luke 2, the manger is mentioned three times. Maybe we were meant to ask why.

THE FIGHTER, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale

The Fighter has Oscar written all over it. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale star as half-brothers, Micky
Ward and Dicky Eklund, both former professional boxers, and both members of the family for whom the
word dysfunctional must have been coined.

Despite superb acting by Wahlberg and Bale, and despite exciting fight action (both in the ring and
out of it), and despite the defeat-to-victory scenario, I felt as if I were in a sociology class, peering
voyeuristically into the bizarre world of the Ward-Eklund family, which is, after all, a real family.
The Wikipedia article about The Fighter notes that Wahlberg wanted to play Micky Ward because
the “ordinary family” appealed to him. If this family is ordinary, we all owe a big fat apology to the Royal
Tenenbaums.

Ruled by Alice, a 60-something matriarch in stilettos who has seven unmarried grown daughters living at
home (some of which look very much the worse for wear, and all of whom have awful hair), the focus of
this family is on its two boxing brothers, in particular the elder, Dicky.

Dicky once fought Sugar Ray Leonard, which is why he is known as the “Pride of Lowell,” as in
Massachusetts. Alice manages her sons’ boxing careers, never mind that the younger son is 31 years old
and losing consistently. Alice is also entirely unaware that Dicky is a crack addict. She becomes angry
when Micky gets a girlfriend who doesn’t kowtow to her. Cat fights ensue as these women vie for power
in Micky’s life, and I mean all seven of the daughters, the mother, and the girlfriend. Instead of going
to England for a shot at the welterweight title, these people should have all gone to family therapy and
stayed there.

Holding up the screenplay is the f-word, which operates as a sort of scaffolding without which the script
would collapse. If this word offends you, you will not be able to comfortably watch this movie, as here it
is used constantly by everyone.

The movie begins with Micky and Dicky talking into a camera. They are being filmed by HBO. Dicky tells
us that the film HBO is making is about his anticipated boxing comeback, but we can see that he is not
coming back to anything; clearly, he is not well. Later we learn that the film is actually about Dicky’s
descent into crack addiction. Along the way, he goes to jail.

With Dicky gone from the picture into the slammer, the girls fight it out over who is going to be in
control of Micky’s life and career, and—no surprises here—the girl he is sleeping with wins. Sanity and
hard work prevail and Micky finds some professional and personal success.

The end is heartening. You feel happy that you came. It’s not Rocky, but hey, we all love a winner.

Then the credits roll. And you see the real Micky and Dicky. Why do filmmakers feel obliged to do this?
I really wish they hadn’t done it here. The real Dicky looks extremely hard-used. He doesn’t look like a
52-year-old former professional athlete, clean and sober since the early 90s when the events in this film
occurred. Again, I felt like a peeping-tom looking at someone’s private shame.

When I got home I looked Dick Eklund up on Wikipedia. As I suspected, things are not going so well
for him these days. I hope he doesn’t squander the money from this movie on anything other than
professional help and spiritual counsel.

Lessons to be taken from this movie: leave your grown children alone. Work hard. Don’t use drugs. If
your family is this strange, move away.

Not for kids: language, one scene with a girl in her lingerie getting ready to have (but not having) sex.
Also drug use. However, if your kids are grown and they’re mad at you for how you raised them, send
them tickets. Let them know you weren’t as bad as you could’ve been. Alice has you beat, guaranteed.
(Melissa Leo who plays Alice is sure to get a best supporting actress nomination. She knocks this awful-
mother role out cold.)

YOGI BEAR, starring Dan “Yogi” Aykroyd and Justin “Boo Boo” Timberlake

Mayor Brown has bankrupted the city by his mismanagement. That won’t look good to his constituents
when he runs for governor, so he’s got to do something to take care of all that red ink. He walks over
to his wall map and stares at it for a long moment. Suddenly, the answer occurs to him. He’ll sell the
logging rights for all those trees in Jellystone Park! With the money made from this business venture,
he’ll fill up his city’s accounts and have enough left over for each and every citizen to get $1000 in vote-
for-me money.

Jellystone Park shut down you say? Yes, and if they can’t make a movie out of that premise, they can’t
make a movie.

Happily, they can and did. Yogi Bear is surprisingly good. It has a fairly complex plot, recognizable
character development, realistic motivations, physical and psychological suspense, and even a couple of
poignant moments. Two nice-looking lonely people fall in love, foil the evil villain and save a wonderful
natural resource. The solution to the problem is not evident from the beginning, nor is it a deus ex
machina resolution, than which nothing is more irritating. It is subtly foreshadowed, believable,
eminently sound, and politically correct. In short, everything you need for a perfect fix for Jellystone’s
woes.

Of course, Yogi is just for kids, and you won’t be able to sit through it if you don’t have some kids with
you, or unless you’re previewing it to see if it’s a good fit for your children. I took four of mine without
previewing it first, because the trailers looked harmless and the 3D effects looked fun (flying turtle,
flying grub, flying soda).

There’s not too much to worry about, even if you’re as much as a Puritanical (capital P) stickler as I am.
There are two or three bodily-function references. There is a very short clip from a hip-hop song about
large derrieres, but it is sung while Yogi and Boo Boo are swinging theirs, so unless your little ones have
more insight than is good for them, the innuendo will fly right over their little heads. The love story
between the Ranger and the Movie Lady is awkward and a little embarrassing, but your kids will think
it’s sweet.

So, sure, go ahead and take the little dears. But make sure you’re on time, because you don’t want to
miss Rabid Rider, the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner short prior to the movie. This too-short short is worth
the price of admission. Wile E. has a Segway that doesn’t necessarily obey his body movements. You
can imagine what happens next. It’s wonderful fun to watch Wile E. get run over, dropped, smashed,
electrocuted, and surrounded by angry Segways while Road Runner beep-beeps along his merry way.

Both Yogi and Road Runner are faithful to the versions you remember, so don’t worry, no one is
messing with your Saturday morning nostalgia here.

Abel Was Not The First Person To Die

One of the reasons I dislike religious art is that the pictures are so memorable. You see them over and over again, and pretty soon you you begin to think that you are looking at truth, when in fact, you might be seeing only a little bit of the whole picture, an artist’s faulty conception of part of the truth, or even something altogether false.

Case in point, Cain and Abel.

You’ve seen the pictures of Cain and Abel. They’re young men, perhaps only teenagers, and they’re dressed in animal skins. They’re alone, except for Cain’s big pile of fruit and Abel’s spotless lamb. The pictures give us the idea that these boys are bringing God their first offering, having been taught by Adam that this is the thing to do, and Cain is such a big bully that he kills his brother because he’s mad that God likes Abel’s offering better.

Later we learn reasons for God’s rejection of Cain’s offering: “He should have brought a lamb,” or “he didn’t bring his best fruit,” or even, “Cain didn’t follow the correct liturgical order.” (No kidding, a very well-respected and well-known Reformed pastor told me this to my face.)

God is merciful to Cain after the failed offering. God comes to him and exhorts him to repent: to “do well” so that sin will not master him. Cain doesn’t listen. He does allow his fury to master him. Enraged, he lures his brother into a field and murders him.

God comes after Cain again, this time not in mercy. This time God pronounces judgment: “When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be in the earth.”

Cain finally gets the picture. Not just thorns and thistles this time, but the ground itself will refuse to give up its produce. Even more than that, Cain, you’re going to be a fugitive: people will want vengeance.

Cain understands and is horrified. He says, “Now anyone who finds me will kill me.”

Based on the Sunday School picture of the happy family-of-four I saw as a child, I used to ask who that would be—surely Adam and Eve were not going to hunt Cain down. Then I realized that none of this happens until around Year 125, when Cain and Abel would have both been well over 100 years old and would have had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and possibly even another generation or two after that. That’s going to add up to a whole lot of people who in a few hours or days are going to find out that Abel is dead, a whole lot of people who are going to want justice done. They are going to want vengeance.

How do I know all these thousands of people are there? Because God tells us in Genesis 5:3 that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born, and in Genesis 4:25 that Eve believed Seth was a replacement for the murdered Abel. For Eve to assume that Seth was Abel’s replacement, the death of Abel and the conception of Seth are going to have to have some reasonable proximity. It would make no sense for Abel to die in, say, Year 30, and for Eve to comment 100 years later that the particular son she bore in Year 130 is the replacement for a son who died 100 years before.

Assuming even reasonable fertility, reasonable marital happiness, reasonable birth regularity, and so forth, Eve would have borne many, many children between Year 5 or so when Abel might have been born and Year 130 when Seth was born. We have no idea how many children they did have, but we do know that after the birth of Seth, Adam fathered more sons and daughters, so it’s safe to say he and Eve had one giant quiverful, a good number of them born between Abel and Seth, lots of them boys.

Here’s the point: by the time the Fateful Day of the Non-Accepted Offering arrives, there are thousands of people around. I’m no math whiz, but I don’t think it would be hard to figure out an approximate population of Earth after 125 years or so starting with one fertile couple and assuming a generation of 25 years. I’m going to assume some infant mortality, some death in childbirth, and a regular death rate by accident and illness in here, too. There is nothing to make us think no one has died prior to Abel’s death, or even that there has been no other murder.

Possible scenario:

It’s the time of the yearly offering. Year by year everyone brings his offering unto the Lord in remembrance of the lamb that was killed to provide the covering for Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden, and in anticipation of the One who will crush the devil’s head. Year by year, Adam tells the story of sin, repentance, and forgiveness as each one repents of his own sin and cries to God for mercy. God, as he often does in the Old Testament when accepting an offering, answers with a fire that consumes the offering.

Cain doesn’t believe. We know that Abel does, because he is called a prophet by the Lord Jesus (Luke 11:50, 51). For some time, perhaps for many years, God is longsuffering and has mercy on Cain and accepts his offering. Then, at long last, God has had enough of Cain’s unbelief, his hypocrisy in bringing an offering. The yearly offering comes. Abel offers and God answers with fire. Cain offers also, but this time there is no fire.

Thousands of people are watching. No fire. Cain waits. Everyone fidgets. Perhaps someone snickers. Perhaps people begin to say, “I knew this would happen one day.” What goes on in Cain’s mind we know. He is humiliated, and then he is enraged: not at himself for not believing, but at his brother the prophet.

God cautions Cain, but Cain kills Abel. God pronounces judgment, and Cain realizes what he’s done. At last, he cries to the Lord in desperation, and God (what mercy!) puts a mark of protection on him. Cain is still very afraid. He takes his wife and runs. No doubt the search parties are close behind. He travels east, builds a walled city and lives his life looking over his shoulder. There is no evidence that he repents or attempts to make amends. We don’t hear any more about him, except that his descendants seem to be cut of the same cloth.

Eve is devastated that the one she thought would be Messiah is dead. But, a year or two later, she has a son Seth, whom she takes as a replacement for Abel. Eve says: “God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” The term “seed” is used in the early chapters of Genesis to refer to the coming Messiah in whom Eve has believed since the first promise in Genesis 3:15. Eve is not saying, “Now I have a third son to replace my second son whom my first son killed.” She is saying, “I believed Abel to be the promised seed, but now I believe this new son Seth is the one promised.”

The Bible has a point: It’s about Redemption. The coming of the Messiah is in view throughout Scripture, and here we have the first bits coming together. Not Abel, but Seth, will be the forefather of Messiah. That’s what the account is about; it’s not about who the first murder victim was. It’s about narrowing the field. We knew before the Messiah would be a descendant of Eve. Now we know that, out of all her children, Messiah will be lineally descended from Seth.

So, back to my first point: we don’t know that Abel was the first person to die. The world was cursed and everyone was a sinner. It would be quite astonishing given just those two facts to assume no one had died in 130 years. Or even that no one had yet been murdered. Likely people fell off cliffs, drowned in the Euphrates, killed one another in anger, ate poisoned berries, died in childbirth, and so on.

The point is not that these people were perfectly healthy and perfectly kind to one another—in just a few more generations, there’s only one righteous man left in the whole world!—but that they needed, as we need, a Savior. That He was coming.

What we do know about Abel is that he was the first martyred prophet.

We know this because Jesus, speaking in Luke 11:50 and 51 says, “. . . the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. . .” Jesus is not saying that the blood of all people ever killed is being required, but only the blood of the prophets. Abel was martyred because he came to God in faith and his brother hated him for it. But not to worry. Seth was coming, from whom descended the Lamb of God.

127 HOURS, starring James Franco

In the world of cautionary tales, this one’s a doozy.

You’d think that any 28-year-old would know better than to go out into the vast, unforgiving wilderness without letting anyone know where he is going, but Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) is a carefree young man who likes to go it alone, doesn’t want people in his business, and in fact, seems to enjoy not telling people what’s going on with him.

So, out he goes on a solo weekend hiking trip in Utah. He bumps into a couple of cute girls and has a bit of fun with them—no, nothing like that, just fun—and then continues on his merry way by himself. The girls are a little blip in his life so that we are aware that other people do hike that area.

Not too much later, he scoots down into a narrow canyon or crevice (it’s maybe six feet wide), and as he’s walking along, a great big boulder slides down the wall of the canyon and wedges his right arm tight against the canyon wall.

What follows are the titular 127 hours of agony during which Ralston tries everything that can be tried, given the equipment he has, to dislodge the rock. Failing to budge the boulder, he does the unthinkable—and yet the inevitable—and cuts off his arm just below the elbow. He still has a long way to go, but once the arm is off, you’ll breathe a little easier, though you’ll continue to be jumpy until the end.

Much is made of the fact that he should have told someone where he was going, and that it would have been great to have along his Swiss Army knife, but I’m not at all sure either of these precautions would have made any difference. His arm certainly was lost the moment the boulder crushed it, and in no case would anyone have come searching for him in less than a day or two, during which time the loss of circulation would have made the arm’s loss certain. The sharper knife would have made the actual operation easier, but once you get through to the choice of “I am going to cut off my arm,” probably the mechanics are not the main thing, though of course a sharp knife is always better than a dull one.

The other precaution he could have taken was to have someone come along for the adventure, but that would have defeated the purpose of spending time alone in nature. It’s not really getting away from it all if you haven’t gotten away from it all. As a woman with a lot of kids, I understand this need to be completely, totally alone, but I’m thinking that for a guy like Ralston, the long bubble bath with Tolstoy and a hot tea is not going to cut it, so I won’t bother recommending that as an alternate form of escape.

The auto-amputation is fairly gruesome, although not unwatchable. I watched it, but then again, I like to chase fires and pick scabs. It was the urine drinking that about knocked me out; I forced myself not to look away, but to drink it all in, so to speak.

So my point is that I don’t think the arm could have been saved no matter what Ralston had done differently, other than simply stay home. Moral: things happen. You can’t eliminate risk from your life no matter how prepared you are. However, you can face bad things with an undefeatable determination to live. This is Ralston’s best quality: the guy doesn’t give up.

Interestingly, although stuck in an unwinnable situation, Ralston does not turn to God. Nor does he, in the face of imminent death, appear to have any need to make peace with his Creator. Which is not to say that the real Ralston didn’t beg and pray and plead with God for rescue, only that it’s not in the movie.

What is in the movie—and what makes this movie valuable—is Ralston’s calmness in the face of a really bad set of circumstances: it’s cold out there, there’s just a little water left, no one knows where he is, and there’s a boulder crushing his arm.

He remains settled in his determination to live as long as possible, to continue trying to dislodge the rock, and to keep himself together. Of course his mind and body begin to betray him as he is exposed, dehydrated, and probably in shock for five days, but even so, Ralston stays calm with little blips of panic. He does not give in to the fear, which is a lesson everyone should take home with them. The fact is, you don’t know at what moment a catastrophe will befall you and you need to keep your wits about you.

This is a good movie. I’m not sure it’s a great movie. It’s certainly a great performance by James Franco, and is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. It can’t be easy to carry a movie essentially as a one man show, and while Hanks had an entire island to move around in and a volleyball to talk to, Franco’s stuck in a crevice talking to himself and his family as he records final thoughts for them on his video camera. Nor did Chuck Nolan have hallucinations, while Ralston is beset with them from pretty early on.

The scenery is breathtaking, the loneliness palpable. Don’t eat popcorn. I understand some people are not keeping theirs down when the icky parts happen, and theater workers are not really paid enough to take care of that sort of thing.

Not for little kids. If, like me, you don’t actually understand the call of the vast outdoors, you might not care about this movie, except that it is a true story and James Franco is really good at what he does. I thought he was kind of smarmy in Eat, Pray, Love, so this role definitely ups him in my book. (Honestly, I thought all of EPL was smarmy; it’s not Franco’s fault.)

If you have adventure-prone sons, you might want to sit them down and make them watch this film, although there is a little bit of skin. Whether it will change anyone’s behavior is iffy at best. Guys like this don’t like being told what to do, when to check in, or that they ought to carry away an important message from a movie. Still, it’s worth a try.

THE TOURIST, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp

This is more of a photo-shoot-with-a-plot than a movie.  Like a magazine spread with a gangster theme. I say that because there are endless shots of Ms. Jolie walking languidly in form-fitting clothes, posing this way, then that.  Long, loving attention is given to her backside as she sways slowly away on five-inch heels.  Unsubtle commentary about her figure from the men who are surveilling her. And so forth.

I agree that Angelina is deeply, unusually beautiful. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a call for a movie that simply dwells on that beauty. One imagines a documentary called Ageless Angie or Beauty and the Brad, but whatever.  I’m saying it’s a bit much, and if I were making a suggestion to a young man about a movie to take his girl to, it would not be this one. The poor guy is likely to drool all over himself, prompting his girlfriend to have deep, pensive second thoughts about him.

Ms. Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward as a smoldering beauty in love with a thief, Alexander Pearce, who has bilked the British Treasury out of back taxes to the tune of £700,000,000. The Brits want their money, and I don’t blame them as this is about a billion bucks, and these are hard times, Mr. Obama’s comment about the recession being over last year notwithstanding. Pearce seems to owe this money on account of scamming another thug out of 2.3 billion pounds. It’s as though Mr. Madoff owes the government taxes on the money he stole. Is this true? If I rob a bank do I owe taxes on my take? If they recover the principal, do I still owe the taxes on it? And how do I report this on my 1040?

Anyway, back to the story: To throw off those who are looking for Elise’s inamorato, Elise is directed to find someone the same height and build of this Alexander.  She will then cozy up to this man and Scotland Yard will be fooled into thinking that Mr. Similar is actually Mr. Pearce.

This is where Johnny Depp comes in as Frank Tupelo, a Wisconsin math teacher on holiday. His sweet comic bumbling is the perfect foil to Elise’s slow, provocative dance. Good thing, too. If he had been dashing and suave instead of playful and ill-at-ease, I might have fallen asleep in my seat.

There’s a boat chase or two through the waterways of Venice, some rooftop scrambling, a fun fall into a fruit market, and other things of that sort. Ms. Jolie appears in many different lovely outfits from casual traveling clothes to a truly stunning black ball gown. Frankly, she’s just showing off if you ask me. Of course, if I looked like her, I would do the same, all the time, everywhere, and with loads of diamonds around my throat too, so I don’t blame her.

The ending is a little quirky, but it’s not terrible. It could even be called sweet.

This is an okay movie if you like this sort of thing: not an action thriller, not a romance, not a comedy, not a drama. I’m not sure what it is, except that it’s not actually bad, and the people are pretty.

There is one scene of disturbing violence in which a man is strangled to death, which sort of wrecked the whole comic façade of this sort-of cute movie.  There’s no skin, although there is a little bit of lace. A little bit of kissing, and there’s a little bit of language.  Sort of a throw-away movie, really. See it if you have nothing better to do.