A Talking Donkey? A New Christmas Perspective…

December 9, 2018 1:22 pm

There aren’t enough good Christian movies.  And those that do exist often aren’t as “engaging” as we would expect in a secular setting.  But a chance glance in the Netflix Kids profile gave us one great diamond in the rough: The Star.

The Star is the story of the Nativity, Jesus’s birth, from the point of view from the animals.  A lowly jerboa (not a mouse—I admit I had to look that up), sneaks into Mary’s room and overhears the angel announce Jesus’s birth and title as the Messiah.  The angel ascends from the room into the sky,piercing the nighttime lights with a pulsating Star that begins the story as all sorts of animals take notice. 

Scripture front and center.  In the movie however,Mary—and later on Joseph—are given more humorous demeanors than what we read in the Bible.  That’s awesome because I grew up with Christmas as a joyful but somewhat solemn celebration (it should be…but not at the expense of forgetting that Mary and Joseph were REAL people facing REAL challenges). 

From that quick start, we meet a milling donkey—you know, they needed to get their grain ground somehow—whose dream is to lead the royal caravan.  Here again, you’ve got a another good, but subtle, scriptural reference.  Donkeys in the ancient Near East had royal overtones, specifically in peace.  Donkeys, which we assume to be stubborn, are actually quite smart and loyal once trained. BibleTools.org has a good article here

But the verse that we specifically think about is Zechariah 9:9, where our “King is coming…lowly and riding a donkey.”  This is ultimately what Jesus fulfills when he enters Jerusalem during Passover before he is crucified.

The movie is great to not be too “preachy” here, the voice actors are awesome and there is plenty of humor—like Dave, the white dove friend of our donkey who shares his dream of the royal caravan.  Our Little Man appreciated Dave’s comments, “pooping on people.”  There’s plenty of jokes for kids of all ages.  And there are Christmas Hymns played rather than a bunch of silly, singing characters too—so humor balances the solemn and makes it a compelling perspective on this most important chapter in human history.

Eventually,the donkey escapes and is hurt while running from his old owner, seeking refuge with Mary and Joseph.  It’s a typical couple’s reaction where Mary—the nurturing mother—places a stint on his leg,while Joseph—the practical father—seems uninterested in keeping him, especially in his woodworking shop!  Mary lovingly names him Boaz, or Bo.  I love that connection too as Boaz was one of Jesus’s ancestors—in fact, he was King David’s Grandfather.

By this point,we’re introduced to the Three Wise Men whose camels are debating what exactly they’re trying to find underneath that Star. A birthday party?  A baby shower?Or the Messiah—that camel is laughed at for such a lofty expectation though!  When they find King Herod, they cause some alarm and we meet the central bad guys—two dogs on chain held by the “Royal Dog walker” who looks like a Roman Soldier on steroids that, with some photo-shopping, would look right at home in a gory moving like “300.”  They are charged with “taking care” of this new king. 

Bo’s leg heal sand it’s time to head to Bethleham for the census.  The dogs and soldier find Mary and Joseph’s home after they have left, but Bo’s splint gives them the scent to hunt down Mary. 

After Bo decides to help Mary first and then head to the royal caravan, he encounters a lost sheep.  She had left her flock to follow the Star and befriends Bo and Dave.  Her name?  Ruth, another cool reference because Ruth in the Bible was Jesus’s Great, Great…so on…Grandmother that married Boaz.  Ruth was a Gentile too,not a true Israelite, so this is also a subtle hint at Jesus being the King of and Savior to ALL people EVERYWHERE. 

But Bo, Ruthand Dave have their work cut out for them. The dogs, Rufus and Thadeous, are fierce and the soldier—who never utters a word the entire movie—is “ruthless” (Get that pun there?).  During their first encounter, they dump the soldier into a well, but at the expense of Bo kicking a wagon thru lots of merchant tents.  Joseph is furious at Bo for the damages he has to pay for. 

It leads Bo to leave after Joseph calls him good for nothing. But once Bo and Dave get to the royal caravan…something isn’t right.  Bo knows they must turn back. 

The movie gets better as it goes along, like a good crescendo. The wagon, being pulled like a risk shaw without Bo, breaks on Joseph who is (understandably) incredibly frustrated. Mary retreats off the path to collect her thoughts and Joseph in desperation kneels and prays.  He says “I can’t do this, send me a sign!”  That’s when Bo arrives, tenderly pushing Joseph’s back with his muzzle.  Joseph exclaims “Really, the donkey?” 

Isn’t this a little microcosm for what we SHOULD be doing? It’s established in the movie early on (and the Bible, obviously) that Mary and Joseph are faithful.  So seeking God in prayer at their lowest point is only natural.  And this prayer is so real.  Matthew 6:7-8 says that we aren’t to “babble”like pagans.  Jesus teaches in his ministry over 30 years later what Joseph does right here.  It’s a simple, sincere, FEELING prayer.  Joseph feels what he says deeply and strongly and, most important, brings that to God. 

And like Joseph, we often don’t get the answer we either want or expect.  Bo wasn’t exactly Joseph’s buddy throughout the story, preferring Mary’s chin and belly rubs to Joseph’s eye-rolling.  Still, there Bo is pointing his chin toward Mary.  Joseph finds Mary off the path where we get another wonderful nugget. Mary explains, “Just because God picked us to do his will doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”  That really summarizes the believer’s life as well as any commentary you can find…and just then, Bo and Ruth walk up with the belongings from the broken wagon and Dave on their backs.  It’s just in time for Mary to feel the first tremblings of birthing pangs.

But the suspenseonly builds when the Soldier, Rufus, and Thaddeous reemerge on their path,close behind Mary and Joseph.  Bo and team feel that their journey is over, breathing a sigh of collective relief once they get into Bethleham…but that’s when all the rooms are full and Bo’s old owner finds him.  Bo is devastated and locked into a stable.

Here might be one of the neatest moments for a child watching the movie.  Bo prays. He begins by comically trying to put his hooves together, “I’ve seen Mary do this lots of times.” And then he begins “God, I’m not sure you listen to prayers from donkeys but I need your help.”

Think about that.  Bo was watching Mary and Joseph pray, just as our children certainly watch us. And the first time our children feel truly in need and desperate, we can imagine that their prayer will be as simple, earnest and heartfelt as Bo’s.  We must endeavor to be the example in their lives that they can emulate, so they have the knowledge to kneel and ask for help.

It’s right then that the stable animals, a bit odd and cranky, meet Bo.  They are a little off because that Star has kept them wide awake for nine months.  Bo realizes that THIS is where Mary and Joseph belong.  The animals are resourceful enough to free Bo and he’s off…just in time to get Mary and Joseph as the Soldier lurks ever closer.

Dave finds the Three King’s camels who are also concerned about the new king after meeting King Herod.  Ruth reunites with her old flock in time to witness the angels sing before the shepherds, telling them to come along.  Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable as Bo leaves to try to protect them.  He gets a good kick in on Rufus and Thadeous is held back temporarily by the chain…but the Soldier is too powerful and Bo is subdued. At the last moment, the flock and camels arrive knocking and dragging the Soldier and dogs over the edge of a high wall in Bethleham. 

Here, the Soldier is determined to pull himself back to the top of the wall and safety.  But Rufus and Thaddeous are weighing him down.  He decides to let them go.  Bo jumps down to save them while the Soldier ultimately falls, never to seek any harm again. Rufus and Thaddeous are lifted to safety and ashamed.  Here’s another subtle, beautiful point though.  One of the camels bites their leather collars and frees them.  Their chains are literally broken.  The dogs are no longer held in bondage to sin.  On the night Jesus is born, two sinners are freed—it foreshadows what Jesus would accomplish at the climax of his ministry some 33 years later.

Finally, all the characters who have had separate story arcs through the movie converge on that beautiful stable.  Bo is first to approach the newborn babe.  And then,Rufus and Thaddeous enter.  All the animals glare at them as one camel warns “Don’t even try it!”  Ashamed, with sunken heads and heavy eyes they come no further…until Bo welcomes them. They approach the manger and look upon baby Jesus.  Rufus asks, “Hey, are we good dogs now?”  Thaddeous, wisely states with a heavy but optimistic smile “We have to try.”

That’s some pretty amazing theology for a kid’s movie. The bad guys for the entire movie are forgiven by the main character.  And with Jesus at the center,it is REAL forgiveness.  The Soldier,their boss, let them go when it mattered most—just as Satan and sin do to us.  But once their chains were set free,they had the choice.  And they chose to seek Jesus.  Thaddeous’s point that they have to try is beautiful too, recognizing that their sanctification is not complete in one night after a lifetime of bad deeds…but it is full of HOPE. 

And then, we see the Three Wise Men emerge.  Joseph worries that they are the owners of the stable. Instead, they bestow their gifts to Jesus, for the King.  Bo and all the animals then realize what this Star has meant.  Bo had sought to lead the royal caravan has is ultimate dream, but instead, he carried the King of Kings without ever knowing it. 

How many times do you feel your work isn’t valuable?  I struggle with this.  The world is a big place and not everyone can be the President or CEO or whatever title you might seek.  Not everyone can be rich or “important.”  It’s easy to put yourself down.  Bo had lived his young life as a miller donkey, walking in circles forever.  And his dream to lead the royal caravan never did happen.  Instead, he found this carpenter and his wife…but it ultimately ended up being the greatest King ever.  We mortals struggle to see things in the past clearly, lack full understanding in the present, and can only guess at the future.  1 Corinthians 13:12 states it best – “Now I know in part, then I will know fully.”  Bo carried the greatest cargo any donkey ever carried up to that point in history.  But it wasn’t until the end of the journey that he realized it.  And most of us will only know part of the good we accomplish in this life according to God’s plan.  Yet work we must, as Colossions 3:23 states, “Whatever we do, work heartily as for God and not men.” It all matters.

I’m a softie so I’ll admit, there were many moments I teared up during this movie.  It’s well worth it’s weight in popcorn.  I hope you’ll pop a bowl of our#NoToothpicksPopcorn #AwesomePopcorn and #MakeaMemory with your family. 

For our part,we’ve found a new Christmas tradition. The Star.  Grab the popcorn and enjoy!

Merry Christmas–