Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A walk through Bethlehem

Every December our church and some generous volunteers, put on an unconventional nativity titled "A Walk through Bethlehem.". The characters are asked to read the Christmas story as found in Matthew, and a script suggesting possible action and dialogue, and then they improvise before a live audience. You never know what the characters will say on any given evening. You never know how the touring audience of 10-15 people in a group will react.

A beggar with a hunched back stands outside Bethlehem's walls. He asks for mercy and pleads for shekels. One year an adorable guest asked her father for money and then skipped over to drop it in the beggar's bag. Another child attending for the third year had brought a gift for the baby Jesus. When the child approached the stable, he tiptoed up to the manger and wished the baby Jesus "Happy birthday." He kissed the babe's head, and placed his gift beside the swaddling clothes.

My first year as a volunteer, I played an innkeeper. My job was simply to complain that Bethlehem was brimming with people there to pay taxes, and that I had no room for anyone, especially these new visitors. After all, I had just turned away a mother with child, riding on a donkey. That first year, I thought the presentation was a bit "hokey;" a little too informal for my taste. After all, I had been involved in a real pageant with a cast of hundreds, and professional actors and directors. Surely, this little play by a local church could have no impact or make no impression on the community. But I was oh so wrong.

One year I was a greeter; able to listen and observe the adults and children who walked through the grass past the wooden props of sheep and donkeys, past the wooden scenery that I had helped to paint a few years earlier. I saw the wonderment in the eyes of the children. I heard adults express their gratitude at how much they looked forward to their "Walk through Bethlehem" each year, how it renewed them and prepared them to celebrate the birth of their Savior. And I felt the spirit that can only come in a simple stable, with simple people who in humility welcome the birth of God's Son.

Merry Christmas everyone!