The road to Bethlehem was dusty, exhausting and dangerous, but the decree by Caesar Augustus required all citizens, including Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, to travel to Joseph’s birthplace to register and pay taxes. Visitors to Trinity Ecumenical Parish’s Living the Nativity on Dec. 6 and 7 will follow a representation of that route. It includes encounters with shepherds who speak of an angel’s amazing proclamation, the prophet who foretells the Savior’s birth, Caesar’s gruff soldiers who keep order in the marketplace and the innkeepers who, with all their rooms already taken, had only shelter in a stable to offer the weary couple.
How it Began
in december of 2014, Trinity parishioner Les Daenzer was visiting his brother in their hometown of Frankentrost, Michigan. Les’s brother, Jerry, and late sister-in-law, Judy, had been involved with their church’s presentation of a living Nativity since its inception 20 years earlier. The production was held the weekend that Les was visiting, and he watched as the Christmas story was retold to more than 3,000 visitors.
“I was impressed by how Immanuel Lutheran’s dramatic portrayal of Christ’s birth brought the meaning of the Christmas story alive,” Les recalled. “I knew it was something that would fit Trinity Ecumenical Parish’s passion for outreach ministry at Smith Mountain Lake.”
After he returned home, Les described the event during a meeting of Trinity’s parish council. With their encouragement, he spread the idea among other church members, and planning for the church’s first Living the Nativity had begun.
A Vivid Portrayal
now in its third year, the interactive Living the Nativity takes months to plan and prepare, days to set up and about 60 cast members, ranging from age 8 to 80, to participate. Guests at the event are led by a costumed guide who, while escorting them along the road to Bethlehem, helps explain the various interactions. Each scene that guests encounter along the way has been painstakingly recreated in the church’s lower parking area.
Guests can warm by the fire of shepherds who, while tending their fields, marvel at a visit from an angel announcing the miraculous birth of a king. They will encounter a man who recounts Isaiah’s prophecy and foretells its significance to mankind. They also will be challenged by soldiers at checkpoints and approached by beggars outside a bustling marketplace where vendors sell their wares.
To add realism, live animals, including a camel, goats and sheep, graze along the path. Travelers are registered while their guides pay the group’s taxes. Their stop at an inn in search of lodging leads them to a stable where they observe Mary and Joseph tending to a baby lying in a manger as Trinity Pastor Philip Bouknight’s recorded voice reflects on the Christmas Story.
“At Trinity, we pray that this ministry will provide an opportunity for the lake community to reflect upon the many ways that Jesus’ birth gives them purpose, hope and new life,” Bouknight said.
“We try to include something new ... something that adds to the realism ... to our portrayal each year,” said Lee Anne DeMonbreum, who has been helping as a cast member and as part of the planning and organizing team since its inception. “This year, there will be additional live animals, and we hope to have music reminiscent of the times in the expanded marketplace to help create the atmosphere there.”
Like DeMonbreum, Nan and Dan Jones also have been helping since the event began.
“The payback for all the effort is seeing the reactions of our guests,” Nan Jones said. “But our main purpose with Living the Nativity is outreach to others in the lake community who may experience this immersion in the Christmas story in a moving, memorable and meaningful new way. Perhaps this is really God at work showing his love through our portrayal of Christ’s birth.”