Currently selling theater tickets like hotcakes, Christmas With The Chosen: The Messengers is the third Christmas-oriented production in the series The Chosen, created by Dallas Jenkins; the second to feature a scripted episode; and the second to feature Contemporary Christian Music bands and singers, and spoken-word performances.
But, it’s the first to have both the music and the scripted episode together — and the first to hit the big screen as a Dec. 1-13 Fathom Event (tickets and theater info here).
The multi-season series based on the Gospels began with a short film centered on the Nativity called The Shepherd, which Jenkins produced for his own church community. That morphed into a series, with two seasons aired and one in the works — and more planned — which set crowdfunding records. The story of the show’s finances even recently earned it a big piece in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal.
The Chosen is also unique in its ecumenical spirit, blending talents, consultants and business partners from different branches of believers, including Catholics (headed by Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus — see my chat with him and co-star Elizabeth Tabish here), Evangelicals (such as Jenkins) and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more on LDS involvement here).
Now, it’s proving a hit in theaters, with Fathom having to add more dates and theaters to the original run.
A version of Christmas With The Chosen: The Messengers will eventually be made available for free via YouTube, The Chosen app and probably BYUtv, which currently airs it, but it will be shorter than the theatrical version (not in the scripted portion, though).
I’ve just watched a two-hour version of the event. It begins with music, personal testimonies from the performers, and Scripture-oriented spoken-word segments from members of the cast. Then it rolls into an original scripted episode centered on the birth of Christ and especially on Mary’s very likely role (even the Catechism says so) as the source of much of the Infancy Narrative in the Gospel of Luke. After all, who else was present for the Annunciation and the Visitation, and for the Nativity, who was still alive to tell the story afterward?
It then ends with a rousing musical ensemble performance of Joy to the World and, if you stick around for the credits, my favorite Advent hymn, O Come Emmanuel.
The Chosen is, first and foremost, a TV series. The Gospels inspire it, but it’s not beholden to draw just on those sources. Instead, it fleshes out the characters from the Biblical tales and weaves fictional (but consistent with Gospel truth) narratives around the original stories.
The scripted Christmas episode The Messengers moves back and forth in time between Mary and Joseph (Sara Anne and Raj Bond, reprising their roles from The Shepherd) arriving in Bethlehem, and Mary Magdalene (Tabish) visiting the older Mary (Vanessa Benevente, who also plays the role in the series) to get a bit of the story that Luke doesn’t yet have.
The musical performances are from Christian Contemporary Music performers that I’m not really familiar with — as I pointed out while watching the recent documentary The Jesus Music — except for Matt Maher, who’s a Catholic. Shot in the LDS Church-owned Jerusalem set that the show used for season two, songs include contemporary and original Christmas tunes, along with some traditional ones. They’re all very well-done, beautifully shot, and moving.
The Messengers is a classic example of what The Chosen does well. There’s no Scriptural evidence that Mary Magdalene visited Mary in the years after the Resurrection, but hey, she might have. Either way, the theme of messengers echoes throughout, from Mary’s Angel Gabriel to the angel that visited Joseph (maybe Gabriel, but the Bible doesn’t say), to the message Mary gives to Mary Magdalene, who then delivers it to Luke.
So, it’s a bit of Biblical fact, a bit of fiction, and an elegant weaving of the theme through different storylines and characters. Then, a final spoken-word performance ties up the whole thing with a bow.
As a bonus for the producers, The Messenger was also a way to do a new episode of The Chosen while using a minimum of sets, locations and cast members. For a show on a budget, it was a wise choice.
I don’t know if Jenkins set out at the beginning of his career to be a TV showrunner, but he’s doing a dang good job at it. A long-form ensemble series is quite a different creature from a movie or even a miniseries, and Jenkins and his collaborators are doing first-rate work. Their stated goal is to bring the authentic Jesus to life, beyond stiff or overly reverential depictions, and they’re succeeding.
The team at The Chosen also knows how to work social media and hashtags. They’ve had several, including #BingeJesus, and this time, #PeopleMustKnow.
UPDATE from the inbox 12/2/2021:
DALLAS – Dec. 2, 2021 – CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHOSEN: THE MESSENGERS – a special, in-cinema event from the creators of the global phenomenon The Chosen – broke sales records for Fathom Events, which released it in 1,700 movie theaters nationwide.With sales topping $8 million for 640,000 tickets, CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHOSEN: THE MESSENGERS is now Fathom’s best-selling and most highly attended event in its history.“We knew we had something special with this title,” said Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events. “We are grateful for the passionate fans of The Chosen and our exhibitor partners who accommodated demand by adding showtimes and locations. We are all partners on this journey to claim the #1 spot as Fathom’s best-selling event, ever!”The event also set a Fathom record for fastest out-of-the-gate sales with $1.5 million in its first 12 hours of availability.“We don’t do this for the numbers, but these records indicate people will indeed go to the theater for a project they’re passionate about,” said Chosen creator, writer and director Dallas Jenkins. “The enthusiastic comments from new and old fans give us the confidence to do this again.”
Image: Angel Studios
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