I confess! I love sweet, sappy Christmas movies. I cannot help it.
From November till New Year’s, I love nothing better than snuggling up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate and our bulldog pups, while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic version of The Christmas Carol, or even Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I also enjoy checking out the new Christmas movies each year, even though very few of them compare to those classic titles.
Although, I must say that Christmas Manger, a new selection from PureFlix, made the cut for a repeat viewing next year. Starring Andrea Logan White, Steve Young, and Tara Reid, Christmas Manger is not your typical feel-good Christmas film, even though it does convey the true spirit of Christmas.
In the process, it also addresses some very real issues facing American families this Christmas, things like holiday depression and grief, domestic abuse, and the long-term impact of foster care. And all of those are timely topics, but they were not the thing that really “got me” in this movie.
The story revolves around a woman, her teenage son, and her young daughter who are fleeing a very abusive domestic situation. They end up reuniting with the woman’s estranged foster father whose beloved wife recently died. The man’s biological daughter is wary of the situation though. She fears the foster daughter will wreak havoc and heartbreak as she did many years before.
Rest assured, PureFlix deals with each of those very weighty issues in a very wholesome manner. But the part of the movie that hit me hardest was the story centered on the little girl, beautifully portrayed by actress Taylor Bedford.
Having lived in an abusive situation most of her life, viewers learn that the little girl has never really been to church and has never before heard the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. So, the father/grandfather character builds her a life-size version of the manger, as well as the town of Bethlehem. In the end, that crude, handmade Christmas manger brings healing and hope to the little girl, the old man, his entire family, and the whole town.
Sounds great, right? Sweet, sappy, and perfect for Christmas viewing, except for one thing. I could not get away from Taylor Bedford’s character. It was absolutely unbelievable to me that an American child might never have heard the story of Jesus in the manger. I could not get that disturbing scenario out of my mind.
Is it possible? Are there really kids in this country who have never heard about the innkeeper with no room at his inn, the angel, the sheep, the shepherds, the donkey, the cattle, the three wise men, and that precious manger where Mary laid her newborn son? Is it possible in our society of instantaneous technology that a modern American kid really could have missed out on the Christ-mas story?
To find out, I did some fact checking on this aspect of the movie. And after only a little bit of research, I discovered that yes, indeed, there are many children in America who may not have a clue about the Babe in the Bethlehem manger.
Barna Group did two separate studies, one in 2018 and one this year, on the unchurched people in America, and they compared their information to data gathered from the 1990s. (For their research, Barna defined unchurched as people who had not attended church in more than six months.)
In the 2014 study, Barna focused on several demographic groups and discovered that the number of unchurched Americans had grown by around 30% in two decades. Researchers were absolutely shocked by this jump, but I found another statistic from the study even more disturbing.
According to the 2014 Barna data, as many as 42 million children and teens were unchurched. Keep in mind, the U.S Census Bureau estimated a population of 73.6 million children under the age of 18 in that same year. So, 42 million of 73.6 million American children were unchurched in 2014.
This year, Barna found some equally disturbing news. In fact, the estimated population of kids under 18 is relatively the same at 73.8 million, and the other percentage is basically the same, with 57% of our children still unchurched. But twenty-five years later, the difference is that now, compared to data from the 1990s, we have one generation of unchurched kids being raised by another generation of unchurched parents.
So, yes, Barna Group helped me answer my own disturbing question. Not only is it possible, but it is also quite probable that the movie Christmas Manger correctly and realistically portrayed a young American girl who had never stepped foot inside a Christian church, much less ever heard the story of Jesus’ birth. In fact, the reality is that one or both of her parents probably had never heard the real Christmas story either.
What an American travesty! How shameful!
Sixty percent! Let that number sink into our hearts for a moment. Almost 60% of Americans may not have heard the story of the Manger – or the Cross.
Obviously, it is up to the 40% of us who have heard the Good News of Jesus to end that travesty. We must share the love and truth of Jesus before it is eternally too late for 60% of our fellow Americans.
We can share the Good News several ways during this Christmas season. First of all, one easy way to share Christ is to purchase some AFA “Keep Christ in Christmas” wristbands. Give away a wristband, and share the love of Jesus. They are a great way to build relationships with the “unchurched” around us.
Christmas is also a great time to invite people into our churches and homes to enjoy food and fellowship, as well as the story of Christmas.
Also, purchase and watch Christmas Manger for a little perspective and a few ideas. And if you are up to it, build your own nativity scene like in the movie (just not so large, maybe), and share it with your neighbors. It worked wonders in the movie, and it just might work wonders in real life as well. After all, it is the most amazing story on earth – the story of the King of Kings born in a manger stall.
It is the one story we must keep telling, for it is the story of Life Everlasting. It is the story of Jesus.