Come to Bethlehem and See

In this stage of the calendar year, people are buzzing around in a flurry of Christmas activity. The town twinkles with festive lights & decor and stores are inventing new ways to lure in more shoppers. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all that “stuff”…and forget the whole meaning of Christmas in the first place!
Our church does “Bethlehem”. Every other year. It’s a big deal. A. Really. Big. Deal. When the concept was first introduced many years ago, my brain didn’t register the scope of this project – nor could it fathom the end result.
2 semi-trailers full of supplies and props, a barn-full of live animals, truck loads of wood chips for the floor, and a multitude of volunteers work hours and hours on end to transform our church’s gym into the faux village of Bethlehem. When they are finished working their majic, even when you KNOW it’s a gym, there is no resemblance of a gym. It really does feel like a village! Shopkeepers are trying to “sell” their wares (not for real, of course!), and one beautiful lady bares her feet and tromps on grapes all evening! This has become a tradition in our community, and for 4 nights in December, people have a chance to “go” to Bethlehem. Thousands take up the opportunity – and will even wait 2 hours in line. outside. in the cold…to do so.
In the whole scheme of things, the part I play is miniscule. I just go pick up a costume on the alloted day (the costume department is something else, too!) and show up to sing with a small group in front of the manger scene.
Last night was the first night of Bethlehem. “Mary” and “Joseph” and baby “Jesus” showed up and took their places in the cave that would be the nativity scene. They were a beautiful little family – on the inside and out. Baby Jesus was memsorized by his mom’s costume bobbles that swayed back and forth when she moved her head. He would look up at her with his big eyes and smile and smile. Oh, it was beautiful.
At different points in the evening a group of shepherds came in and did a little mini drama that went something like this:
“I think we’ve found it!”, the head shepherd would exclaim.
“Is this the baby the angels told us about?”, they asked Mary.
Then they would go on to ask what the baby’s name was, etc…
The first time the shepherds came in, there was a bustle of activity in front of the manger scene. People were crowded everywhere. Baby Jesus was getting a little fussy and had that look in his eye that said he was fighting sleep with all his might.
At the end of their dialouge, the shepherd said, “We must kneel down and worship!”
And, there, in front of the hay bales, the shepherds knelt as we sang,
“Come let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before the
Lord our God our maker…”
I looked over at the baby just then. Moments before, I thought he was going to burst into a fit of tears. But, lo and behold, he was fast asleep.
I got all choked up as I sang. It was one of those MOMENTS. It was as if the real Christmas story came to life again in my heart. In that instant, I was struck by the thought of Jesus’ humanity – His humility – in coming to earth, as a baby. for me. for us all.
That’s love… That’s Christmas.

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