It’s taken months of preparation. It’s involved hundreds of hours of work – designing costumes, building stage sets, painting backgrounds, arranging lighting and writing scripts. It’s been rehearsal after rehearsal for our actors, going over scenes again and again until we got it right. Now here we are, on the eve of the greatest outreach event our church has put on ever.
It’s called the Christmas Journey, because that best sums up what it is all about. Groups of 15-20 people are given a handful of shekels and then led by a Roman Centurion (in full regalia), on a “journey” of the Christmas story, starting with the prophet Isaiah announcing the coming King and ending with a beautiful stable scene with Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus.
Some of the scenes come straight from the biblical text, such as those wonderful words of promise uttered by the prophet Isaiah (Isiah 9:6-7), the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel (Luke chapter 2) and the interaction between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.
Others are completely made up, as with the interaction between the Centurion and the Inn Keeper (one of my favourites) and the accosting of the tour group from the tax collector. But it all adds to the fun and hopefully, something of the reality of what actually took place.
After refreshing themselves at the Inn, where our guests are offered nibbles and treats, they are guided into the marketplace. This is where much of the “hands on” work has taken place. It’s an attempt to replicate what a Bethlehem marketplace might have looked like in the beginning of the first Century, complete with the bustle and noise and smells (we even have live sheep) of a middle-Eastern market. Many our church people are in here, dressed in costume, offering their “trades” and wares, reading stories to children, making crafts and interacting with the visitors.
After about 30 minutes in the marketplace, a shofar is blown, and the Centurion calls his tribe together to be led to the final scene, the climax of the entire journey, where our visitors will meet Joseph and Mary. The scene is dark, with a single light over Mary, who is seated with the baby. She begins to sing, softly at first, and then bursting into full song of praise to God for the privilege of bringing the Son of God into the world (this scene has the power to make a grown man cry). Then Joseph speaks, explaining his role in all this, and how this baby is the answer to our deepest longings and needs, if we would only believe and put our personal trust in him.
The whole things has to finely tuned, with the tours leaving every 15 minutes and each tour lasting around 50 minutes. That’s a lot of singing for Mary (16 times on the first night), so we are hoping she can hold up! It will be busy in the marketplace, with animals bleating, shofars going off and tours coming and going.
We’re all really excited about this event. We think that it’s sad that so many in New Zealand know so little about the first Christmas and the wonderful miracle that took place: the Son of God becomes a man so that men and women, in turn, might come to personally know God. They won’t likely go to church to hear about it. But they will come to something like this.
Note: if you are a local, the event takes place at the Headingly Centre in Richmond on December 15-17th starting from 5pm each night. Unfortunately we are fully booked out. We had no idea there would be this much interest (it even attracted attention from the local press – see below), but we are taking a small number of “walk ins” after 8pm.