Monday, December 9, 2013

The Power of the Nativity

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Lying in a manger Luke  2:11 -12 KJV


A number of years ago our church had an interactive Christmas program called Back to Bethlehem. My husband and I were instrumental in providing the script, training over 100 actors who spent time as citizens in the recreated town of Bethlehem, as well as acting in the drama. He was Joseph some nights and a Pharisee other nights. I was a roaming character who kept tabs on the town.  We trained the actors to stay in character and act, react, speak, and respond as if they were living in Biblical times. Our goal was to give visitors a glimpse of the time of Jesus’ birth.

Built over a section of the church parking lot, Bethlehem was enclosed on the sides and had a canvas roof to keep out the rain and snow. During the five years we recreated this town the actors endured some of the bitterest winter nights our city had seen in years.  For eight days every December, we all layered up in thermal underwear, put hunters’ hot hands in our shoes and in our pockets, and endured the cold for the privilege of being in the town of Christ’s birth. And what a privilege it was.

We had gossiping women at the well, roaming shepherds searching for the baby Jesus, asking townspeople and visitors if they had seen the child or the chorus of angels singing in the sky. Wise men camped on the road outside the town and engaged visitors in conversation about the star.  Roman guards oppressed the townspeople, and citizens hawked their wares in the city streets.  Pharisees taught young boys, in Hebrew, about the coming Messiah. We even had a beggar who spent more time being shoved into the soggy mulch pathways by burly Roman guards than he spent upright. The town was alive, bustling with people and imaginary lives that became real and grew and morphed over the seasons we spent in the town.

 Noise was a huge factor in our Bethlehem. From the minute visitors were lead into the town by the caravan master, the din of voices could be heard everywhere. Roman guards bellowed and ordered everyone around. Shopkeepers tried to sell their breads or fruit or pottery or fabric. The women at the well laughed and carried on. The people in the inn complained. Sheep and goats in the pens bawled and baaed.

Then you passed through the inn into a short hall to the manger and everything changed.

Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus took center stage, nestled in a corner of the hay-filled stable. Mary softly sang a lullaby in Hebrew to the sleeping child. The townspeople visiting the manger spoke in hushed tones. The shepherds knelt and worshipped the baby. Visitors whispered to their children as they took in the scene of Holy Family.

As much fun as the townspeople had in the city, and it was fun, nothing could compare to the emotion-driven scenes that occurred in the stable. We had mothers and fathers thank Mary and Joseph for being there for them. Children warned Mary that her baby would face great dangers. One night a child challenged Mary that baby Jesus wasn’t real. He got a surprise when Joseph laid the child’s hand inside the swaddling clothes where they had hidden a hot hands to help keep Mary’s hands warm. Upon feeling the heat coming from the life-like doll portraying the baby, he exclaimed “Jesus is alive!”  The very message we were attempting to impart to our visitors. Another night, an unknown woman we simply called “The woman dressed in black” wept for several minutes when she approached the manger. 
For five Christmases my husband and I lived and breathed Bethlehem. Recreating Bethlehem took months of preparation and many hours of hard, cold, work walking the city streets and interacting with visitors. But I wouldn’t exchange that time, or even the horrible bronchial infections I got afterwards every year, for anything. Going back to Bethlehem, for a few short hours of my life on that church parking lot, gave me a perspective on Christmas that few people get to experience, and those times created some of the best Christmases memories I have ever experienced.

 Every night before the gates of the town were opened, we prayed the power of the nativity would reach someone who needed Christ in their lives.In the midst of the noise  of the world, our town of Bethlehem and the quiet nativity touched so many lives: young people and old people, people from our community and people from miles and miles away, the lives of the actors and workers in Bethlehem, Christians as well as those who didn't believe. But then that shouldn’t be a surprise to me. After all, Christ was born to change us all. We just need to accept his invitation.
This Christmas season, may the power of the nativity, a hushed place to worship the Lord, be revealed to you. And may your Christmas, and your life, be blessed because of Jesus.


  1. What joy you must have received doing this. What a wonderful idea. Thanks for writing about it.

  2. Bethlem was fulfilling on so many levels. We were all sad when the church leadership decided to stop the event. Thanks for coming by and commenting.