BOISE, Id – From Radio City Music Hall to Saturday Night Live, the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus is told around the world this time of year. And one way that story gets shared is through living nativities. These can be elaborate affairs, complete with costumes, sets, even live animals. One church in Meridian does this to bring other churches and the community together.
It’s a cold and blustery day behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Meridian. More than one hundred people take part in a dress rehearsal of the “Journey to Bethlehem.” Each has a role to play, including Asheley Woodruff. She’s transformed herself into “Cousin Rebecca” and she’s our guide.
Asheley Woodruff“We know that you are very tired so we’re going to try to get on our way as quickly as we can and find some shelter at an Inn inside the city gates.”
Rebecca is dressed in traditional garb, a long, flowing robe and a veil. She leads us back in time, roughly 2000 years.
“…Please don’t pass by without giving me a shekel…”
Beggars and a wandering leper want some of our pennies, these pass as shekels, the traditional currency. We meet two Roman Guards dressed in bright red uniforms, complete with shiny silver helmets and swords.
“…Sir we have come to pay our taxes for the census from Caesar Augustus. You’re too late the gates are closing, come back in the morning, away with you, away with you.”
Rebecca bribes the guards with a shekel and we enter Bethlehem. The city bustles with vendors, shoppers, and a group of dancers in the middle of the square.
Maureen McGee“…See the oranges, figs, come and see, lovely vegetables, cheap, fresh, fresh out of the soil…”
The vegetable seller is played by Maureen McGee. It’s her first year to play a part in the living nativity. She’s not Seventh Day Adventist. She’s actually from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints next door.
Maureen McGee“I think it’s wonderful that we can all work together, I really do, because no matter what your religion is if you believe and you love, that’s the main thing, because we should all be able to work together.”
Karen Pearson agrees. She and her husband re-vamped the event last year. They took it from a drive-through nativity, to this more elaborate, and authentic, walking tour.
Karen Pearson “One of the things that really was important to us is that we not only offer something for the community, but we involved the community with it.”
Pearson says the Seventh Day Adventist Church reached out to other faiths to take part in the performance. Now LDS Church members, a Rabbi, even a few atheists play a role.
Karen Pearson “I think so often it’s easy for congregations to kind of get into their own little bubble, you know, you see the same people week in and week out, so the interaction that we have with others is just, it’s a very important part of this whole effort and it’s something we enjoy and everyone else seems to enjoy too.”
As we continue through the market, we meet a horn seller, a basket vendor,
“…best quality, best prices, everything you need right here in my basket shop…”
and some goat salesmen. But our guide, Rebecca, played by Asheley Woodruff, warns us not to spend our money at the market.
Asheley Woodruff“Do not give away your shekels, the census taker and the tax collector will not be happy with us, come along family, come along…”
In the tax collector’s tent, we grovel and hand over our pennies. Then we seek lodging at an Inn.
“[knock, knock, knock] What is the reason for all this noise?”
It’s been a mostly secular Journey, up to this point. That changes as the Innkeeper says there’s no room at the Inn.
Innkeeper “I even had to put a young couple in a stable this evening and she was expecting a child…”
We meet three wise Men, some shepherds, then suddenly a bright white angel appears on a podium, illuminated by spotlights.
Angel “…Today in the city of David is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord and this will be sign unto you, you will find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger…”
Not far away, we find a small shed, converted into the stable. Inside, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus huddle against the wind. After a few minutes watching this scene, our guide Rebecca herds us away.
Asheley Woodruff“Family, we need to lead this place and tell everybody what we have seen here…”
After the Journey to Bethlehem is over, visitors are brought inside the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and given hot chocolate. Organizer Karen Pearson says it takes the whole year to plan and rehearse the event.
Karen Pearson “Just the comments that you get and the feedback that you get from people who have gone through it is just incredible and then, it’s great, because that reminds you of why you do it.”
This year the church has made the Journey bigger, adding new vendor stalls and more live animals, including a donkey, to go with the camel, sheep and goats. Last year, 19-hundred people took the Journey to Bethlehem. This year, they hope for more.
Copyright 2011 BSPR