Bethlehem 2016
By Dick Duerksen

“Bring Bethlehem to life in the church parking lot, and you’ll draw thousands.”

I wonder what marketing expert first recommended a modern Bethlehem as part of a congregation’s annual outreach schedule. Whoever it was, I hope they’re getting royalties from the awesome results of their idea!

My wife, Brenda, and I journeyed to three different “Bethlehems” during December. One was a multi-church outdoor extravaganza with soldiers on horses, Gabriel swinging among the stars, angels singing, carpenters pounding, kings wandering, Herod growling, and hot cider flowing. It was awesome, cold, and packed.

“Four thousand on the first night,” an exhausted guide exclaimed. “That really kept us busy!”

I discovered that there were four different Angel Gabriels and that other cast members also worked in shifts. “So that each visitor would discover a fresh story.”

We also toured a small outdoor Bethlehem where hot chocolate and home-made cookies from the Bethlehem Bakery made the frigid air bearable. This one featured shepherds roasting something like marshmallows around an outdoor fire, and a sanctuary service where members told the story through drama and song. There was even a singing saw!

Our third Bethlehem was last Sabbath at our home church where the kids dressed up as prophets, kings, shepherds, angels, Mary and Joseph, more angels, innkeepers, and more angels. The choir music, and especially the vocal solos, were heavenly gifts! I’m still humming “How can it be?”

In each Bethlehem the streets were packed and mothers wept with joy.

In each Bethlehem Herod was cruel and the Magi awed.

In each Bethlehem fearful shepherds were calmed by Gabriel’s angelic band.

In each Bethlehem a baby filled all with wonder.

“Mommy,” one lad whispered loudly, “why is Jesus’ Mommy crying?”

“Because she’s looking far beyond Jesus’ birthday. She knows His life will be short and hard. I think she may already be feeling the nails being pounded into Jesus’ hands and the thorns pressed into His head.”

“Why was Jesus borned?” the lad asked.

“So He could find you and me, and Dad and Nancy, and hug us so tight that we’ll pop right out of earth and into His home in Heaven. You know, William, your name is already written on one of the rooms in Jesus’ house.”

The conversation quieted as Joseph sang about being God’s daddy.

“I’m glad He came,” William’s stage whisper cut through the music. “I want to live with Him.”

Another pause.

“Mommy, can I have a pet donkey in Heaven?”