(RNS) – A new bonus episode of “The Chosen” hits theaters on December 1, delighting millions of fans who are eagerly awaiting the third season of the series. The special will tell the story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of Mary and Joseph and also feature performances by Christian artists Phil Wickham, Maverick City Music, For King & Country and others.
“Christmas With the Chosen: The Messengers” is a live theatrical episode shot entirely in secret and will run for 10 days before becoming available for streaming on The Chosen app.
“The Chosen,” a series on the life of Jesus Christ available for free through the app, has become a global phenomenon since its release in 2019, with more than 300 million views in more than 190 countries. This year’s Christmas special marks the first time the crowdfunded show will be seen in theaters. The special sold $ 1.5 million in sales in the first 12 hours, breaking Fathom Events presale records and prompting the distributor to add more than 450 additional viewing locations to help meet demand.
Religion News Service spoke to director and creator Dallas Jenkins about why this new take on the Christmas story might be especially needed right now. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you hope to accomplish by showing “The Chosen” on the big screen?
We thought this could be an interesting way to bring together “chosen” fans and could potentially generate some income before streaming it live on the app for free. All the money paid forward goes to future seasons. We hope to communicate a new perspective on the birth of Christ that we have never seen before. By doing it in theaters, we really hope people get a chance to come together for Christmas when they haven’t been able to do it for a long time. Perhaps watching “The Chosen” together and experiencing the message together will be even more inspiring, joyful and impactful.
“The Chosen” has certainly been successful in terms of numbers. What about the spiritual impact of the show?
I think the most striking thing for me has been what we hear every day, and that is, “The Chosen” draws people to Christ in a way that they’ve never been drawn to before. It makes them love the Bible, prayer and Jesus more. It is not a replacement for Scripture or for a relationship with Christ. It draws viewers more passionately into these things. God is clearly doing something transcendent that is much bigger and better than I am capable of.
What do we know about the public – do they tend to be predominantly Christian?
Viewers as of this point are mostly Christians, although over half of our cast and crew may or may not be agnostic of a particular religion. And every day we hear from thousands of agnostic, atheist, or other point of view people who just watch it like a normal show. In the Christian tradition, I would say it is primarily evangelical, but it is also exploding right now among the Catholic and Mormon religions.
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Why collaborate with Christian musicians to help tell the Christmas story?
For us, this is the opportunity to take you a little further after watching the show. The show is not the end of the game, the show will hopefully make you love and know Jesus more. But what is your response to this? Well, your answer to that, hopefully, is to worship. And all of these beautiful Christmas songs will hopefully come out of you after experiencing the Nativity story in a new and fresh way. And so that’s just part of our entire mission, to bring together people who are great artists and can celebrate the life of Jesus.
What is the meaning of the title “The Messengers”?
In this brand new episode, Mary and Joseph talk about the visits they have received from angels. Back then, they called the angels messengers. With all the musicians doing this special and all the songs they sing, one of the key messages from the whole special is that we are the messengers now. It is up to us to announce the same news that the angels delivered to the shepherds.
How does working with people of different religious backgrounds influence the content of the show?
We have a Catholic priest, a Messianic Jewish rabbi, and an evangelical scholar who read the scripts and give commentary and raise any potential red flags that we might inadvertently come across. I am evangelical, and the show comes from an evangelical perspective. There will be things we might disagree with with different religious traditions. But because we are so focused on Jesus and the gospels themselves, we have found that most religious traditions actually agree on the stories of Jesus. We have seen the show become a remarkable place where people from different religious traditions are unified by the stories.
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How did these different faith perspectives shape the narrative of the Christmas story in this special?
When I discussed this episode with Father David Guffey, who consults with us, he said that there are segments of the Catholic Church who believe that Mary did not suffer from childbirth, although this is not official Catholic doctrine. This is something I wouldn’t agree to. So I described Mary as having pain during childbirth and I portrayed that she was very scared as she approached childbirth. We make it a normal birth that an adolescent and a young man would live alone in a stable. We now know that there will be a relatively small, but measurable, part of our audience that will be bowled over by this.
Why is this Christmas special especially needed now?
I think there are people who are really in desperate need of hope, for a reminder that some of the struggles and divisions we face today were faced 2,000 years ago. This is what Jesus entered.
We have a moment in the episode where Joseph picks up a pile of manure to make room for Mary to give birth. This contrast between the raw humanity of its arrival and the merry Christmas carols like “Joy to the World” is the essence of Christian faith. And it is a message which, at this time, in the midst of so many divisions, is essential. We must remember that the birth of Christ transcends everything we have to deal with. Jesus did not come to change all the struggles that the people were having; he dives into it.