GREENVILLE — “A Night in Bethlehem” hosted by the First United Methodist Church in Greenville, Friday, took folks on a journey to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas.
People were greeted at the door by Pastor Terry Cavanaugh.
“Would you like to learn a Hebrew word?” he asked the guests as he shook their hands. “Shalom means peace.”
Cavanaugh said he sees “A Night in Bethlehem” as an an opportunity to begin Christmas with the true focus, which is Christ.
“It brings us back and grounds us once again,” he said. “We live in a society that is so fast paced, that it is nice to take an evening and slow down and remember what it is all about.”
As people entered the church basement, into Bethlehem, they passed a table full of cookies, hot chocolate and other seasonal treats. Musical entertainment came from The Village Singers from the Arcanum area, and some of the church members. Sections of Bethlehem, included a bakery, a potter and a craft tent, each allowing guests to make a souvenir and listen to storytellers in costume. Church member Jana Deeter was a storyteller in the painter’s hut.
“Last night I saw the brightest star in the sky!” she said. “I can’t explain it, but I saw it. I also heard that a woman had a baby and it was born in a stable, so I decided to create these souvenirs for people as a remembrance of their time visiting the city.”
The stage featured a live nativity scene of actors, with “Mary” and “Joseph” giving narratives.
“My name is Mary, and I was approached by an angel from God,” Mary said. “He gave me a message and I was totally shocked. He said, ‘I want you to be the mother of my son, who is going to be the ruler of the world’. Can you imagine that? Me, being the mother of the most high in the world? I said, ‘I can’t believe this’. He said, ‘He is going to be the son of God and He is also going to sit on David’s throne. I said, ‘That can’t be – that can’t be happening to me’. But I trusted God and I knew everything was going to be OK.”
“I’m Mary’s husband Joseph,” Joseph said. “An angel came to me and told me of this baby, and he said we should name him Jesus. And some day he would help others and take away their sins. Before we came to Bethlehem, we had to travel because Caesar, the guy in charge around here, told us all to go back to where we were born, because they wanted to count us in the census. So we had to travel back on a donkey more than 70 miles.”
“Can you imagine that, traveling on a donkey for seventy miles?” Mary asked. “And here I was going to have a son. Can you imagine how hard that was? It seemed so long, and it kept getting further and further, and I didn’t think we would make it. And then when we got here, they said they didn’t have any place for us to stay, so it was scary, but I trusted God.”
“Thankfully, one of the innkeepers told us to come to his manger,” Joseph said. “It’s not much, but it is much better than having a birth in the middle of the street. And there he is, Jesus, born in the manger. The angel told us that he was the most on high, yet he was born here in this lowly manger surrounded by stinky animals.
“So here we are, parents of this most godly, most high child Jesus, who is going to save the sins of the world,” Mary said. “And we have to believe Jesus; that is what is going to happen. We are thankful and so grateful that Jesus was born, and we thank you all for coming and sharing this wonderful birth with us.”
First United Methodist Church member Evan Laughead, 13, played a donkey at the manger. He said he is glad he participated.
“The entertainment value of the live nativity gives people a chance to get the point of what actually happened,” he said. “Jesus was born in the stables.”
Another church member and “A Night in Bethlehem” coordinator Kathy O’Dell said everyone worked very hard to make the evening meaningful. Last year was the first year for the event. About 100 attended she said, and they were shooting for more this year. The church members started planning in October, recruiting about 40 volunteers, who spent hours transforming the church into the holy city.
“We do this to get the story out, that Christmas is more than tinsel, trees and wrapping packages,” O’Dell said, with tears in her eyes. “It is truly the birth of Christ.”