Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We Go to Bethlehem on Foot

Living Nativity at Memorial United Methodist Church, Clovis, California
Memorial United Methodist Church, Clovis, California
Last Saturday and Sunday night, Merced, California, was the City of David. At least that’s how the guide at the Living Nativity explained Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem -- he compared the distance they traveled to the distance between Clovis to Merced.

So we managed to walk all the way to Merced, er, Bethlehem on Sunday night. (Or we walked around the church and into the sanctuary. Still, it was a journey.)

Confession time: we’ve been to this church building before. We visited a Hmong service a few months ago (it took two tries), and Mindy’s been to their thrift store several times. That’s where she heard about the church’s live nativity, and we decided it wouldn’t really count as a repeat.

A centurion greeted each group of new arrivals, announcing that Caesar Augustus had commanded everyone to go to their ancestral home for a census. (More quietly, he directed us to the table where we were to register for our tour. Everyone was assigned a letter for a “census” group, along with a number. We were in group D) As we waited for our tour, we stood by the fire, which felt quite nice. The fire doubled in the program as a couple men from the church cooked hot dogs over the blazing logs.

With our guide, we followed a sidewalk lined with luminaria to the first scene: Mary being visited by an angel, Gabriel. (The Scripture called the angel a “he,” but the angels we saw during our walk all looked female. Scripture also indicates that gender might not even be a thing with angels.) We found Mary cooking matzo bread when the angel brought the news that she would be the mother of the world’s Savior. There was then taped music of “Love was Born at Christmas”.

We next visited Joseph who seemed to have fallen asleep while snacking on the same bread Mary had been baking. After the angel’s announcement about the coming Messiah, we had live singers lead us in singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” (They said we were all welcome to join the church choir.)

Off we went to see another angelic announcement when the shepherds were given the good news of the baby in the manger. Our guide (in standard church Biblical costume/bathrobe) told us that Scripture said that a “multitude” of angels appeared to the shepherds, which could have been millions… or two. For budgetary reasons, I assume, we had two. Our guide also mentioned that the sheep these particular shepherds of Bethlehem were tending could well have been sold to the temple to be used as sacrifices for sin. The lively group of shepherds of different ages and shoe types (dress to tennis) reacted in a variety of ways to the angel’s announcement, and we all joined in singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” One of the shepherds seemed to be dancing her excitement about the newborn king.

Next stop was the Magi. Our guide noted that although there were three men in the scene and we sang “We Three Kings,” the Bible never says how many men came from the East, but that tradition has named three, probably came from the fact that three gifts were mentioned (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). The guide also pointed out that their wise men were obviously genuine wise men because they all had glasses.

The final stop was in the scene at the manger with Mary, Joseph and the Baby, joined by angels, shepherds, and their dog. (The dog never did make it into the manger, but it did make me think of that phrase, “dog in a manger,” which I never understood. So I looked it up when I got home. If you’re curious, follow this link.)

People were encouraged to stay as long as they wished at the nativity scene as Scripture was read and "Silent Night" was sung. It is a wonderful thing at Christmas to have time to stop and consider what it means that God Himself entered this world as a human baby.

After awhile, we left the sanctuary and went outside, where we could pick up one of those hot dogs we’d seen cooking. We brought our plates inside the fellowship hall where there were also drinks and cookies and flyers listing upcoming Christmas services. “Angels Among Us” is the church’s seasonal theme, and there was a photo op off to one side. You could get a picture of yourself with angel wings and a slogan of your choosing.

It was a nice night to hear again the Christmas story, sing carols, and eat warm snacks. The walk was nice too. We were glad we could make it to Bethlehem (if not Merced).

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