We went to Phoenix on Friday and Saturday for our family Christmas party with the desert relatives. It was a really nice time, highlighted by a trip to a Bethlehem village. I was picturing a live nativity scene, but A Walk Through Bethlehem was a huge surprise and blessing to us. It was put on by Crossroads Nazarene Church in Chandler, AZ and they went all out on their production. My niece Bobbie had gone to get the tickets that afternoon, they are free tickets, but they encourage a canned food donation in exchange. She received registration forms for each family and a paper ticket and a plastic golden coin for each person.
As we started the tour, we came out into the night air and were greeted by shepherds, warming themselves by their fire. They invited us to get warm and visited with us about being shepherds. I took a picture with flash of some shepherd children who were tending some live sheep and turned around to find a woman who was part of the production staring at me with her huge eyes and asked me what kind of magic was this that I could capture their souls. Yikes, I’m sorry! LOL She acted suspicious of me the whole rest of the tour and kept giving me the eye as she walked along with our group. Suddenly (really!) the angels appeared on the roof of the church with a glow of light and smoky haze, announcing the Savior’s birth and entreating us to go and find Him. The shepherds were amazed (of course) and we all went to the gates of Bethlehem to enter the city.
The Roman guards at the gate were gruff and loud…informing us we should have our registration papers ready and that there was a tax to be paid as we entered. My brother in law, who has a habit of making little comments under his breath, said he wasn’t going to pay any taxes. Well he was just kidding, but he was promptly pointed out (by his loving family…heehee) and whisked off by the rough guards, who made an example out of him not to mock them. The rest of us entered the city, handed in our census registration papers, which will be used by the church for outreach purposes, we paid our taxes which were ogled over by Roman soldiers, and were all of a sudden in the middle of an old Bethlehem village recreation. There were ladies doing a Middle Eastern dance with scarves (Maggie and cousin Eleanor were invited to join in), there were people baking unleavened bread in stone ovens over an open fire (there were samples and it was good), there was a man playing an old game with some children in an alcove, there was a woman spinning fuzzy wool into smooth yarn and there were people selling fish….stinnnnnky fish (they offered samples too, but didn’t have many takers). It was all so well done and planned out.
Next we were hurried into a narrow city street where women were excitedly talking from window to window above our heads. They were discussing the angels coming to announce to the shepherds about a Savior’s birth. Maggie caught one woman’s attention because she was wearing a Christmas headband with a gold halo that hung over her forehead. This woman shocked the wits out of Maggie, as she loudly and excitedly asked her if SHE was one of the angels who talked to the shepherds. It took her a minute to compose herself and answer….it was so funny. Then the women told us to come back and please let them know if we found the Savior…..all of this happening while we craned our necks up to watch them. LOL
Through the street, then into the city synagogue, where the priests opened scrolls and read ancient prophecies about Messiah’s birth and life. Then we went out to a quiet manger set where we sat on bails of hay and watched Mary and Joseph taking care of the Baby (a real baby) in the still, dark night, surrounded by donkeys and sheep. One of the pastors of the church gave an evangelistic talk about how everyone is searching for something in their life to give it meaning and fulfillment, not realizing that it is only found through a humble, servant Savior. He then offered a sample prayer of giving your life to Christ and said there were counselors in tents behind us to pray with us or answer any questions we had about it all, adding that the tents had heaters for extra incentive. =) As we headed to the parking lot, there was a petting zoo and kind church members offering assistance to people.
It was wonderful to see a church that put so much effort into a community outreach! This production must have taken hours upon hours of preparation, hard work, practice and planning to pull off. I would drive down to Phoenix every year to see this awesome tour through Bethlehem….many thanks to the Crossroads Nazarene Church!