Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Re-Enactors All

I'm sitting on a bale of straw in the front of our church with a lantern in my hand.  Don't worry, its unlit, so the Tarkio First Baptist church is not going up in a blaze of glory this chilly December night. Though I did hear rumors that at least one of the coffee can luminaria lining the driveway did resemble an old rig fire at some point in the evening.

While the Scriptures relating Jesus' birth are read over the sound system and beloved melodies roll from the grand piano, inviting ''he who has ears'' to come and hear all over town, we don our robes and become reenactors of that night in history when shepherds and angels indeed shared the fields and skies near Bethlehem.

Each half hour is a new experience. Reverence, silence, wonder, and awe dovetail with giggles, wiggles, half pint angels and twinkling earth bound stars.  The sheep penned in the doorway of the sanctuary lend an authentically pastoral sound track and attract the attention of all the youngest visitors.  Their owner watches his flock by night' with crook in hand from a folding chair.

The lantern prop lets watchers know that I am the innkeeper.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)

As soon as Mary and Joseph trudge the aisle, climb the steps and ever so gently place baby Jesus in our manger, I follow staidly with my lantern and settle to observe the proceedings as shepherds of assorted sizes and shapes, Magi from young to old, 3'6" to 6'6", and pint sized Stars approach the holy family.

Sometimes the tableau is quiet and the piano accompaniment is introspective and meditative.  Other times it is as noisy with quiverings, stirrings, and rumblings as I imagine Bethlehem city was that season of the census.  If the inns were overflowing, no way an observer would pen ''how still we see thee lie''.  As I close my eyes to listen to Bev's arrangement of themes from ''The Messiah", I try to visualize the events of that night, filling the scene with crowd noise, dust, the bellowing of oxen, the hustle, anxiety, and irritation that travelers express even today in traffic jams and airports.  If I had been that innkeeper, what would I have been?  I do not think he was without compassion.  The Bible does not say this, but I even picture him as the first Good Samaritan of the New Testament, offering a place of rest after so many others said no or looked the other way.  It is comforting to think he was drawn back to the stable by a sense of wonder or the music of a chorus of angels. Perhaps so.  But like as not, the innkeeper was instantly engrossed and overwhelmed by a million other preoccupations and demands and the expecting family was a problem dealt with, then checked off.
         ''How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven"

Our Live Nativity is, more often than not, oh, so very alive and not a beautiful still life at all.  But it blesses on so many levels.  For those who dress up and stand their half hours, it is an opportunity to listen with two ears, your mind and all your heart to the matchless poetry that is the Nativity in Scripture. Those who come, eat, visit, and watch become part of a living church.  The little ones may think it is the world's best dress up game (stars! angels! headdresses! shepherd's crooks to trip one's siblings!) but whose heart would not warm to hear two year old Josh ask ''Baby Jesus go?" when the manger is empty.
"No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.''

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