The Christmas Journey (Epilogue)

In my last post I wrote about our new Christmas outreach that we are doing this year at our church.  That was on the day we were about to launch.  Now I can report on how it all went.

Over the 3 nights we had over 840 people through with about half of them having no church connection.  The groups averaged 15 in number on Friday and Saturday and then ballooned to around 25 in number on Sunday night (our biggest crowd).  The International Student group numbered over 40!  That made things a little tricky for the Centurions (our “tour guides” for the night), trying to navigate around some tight spaces.  But we managed it all well in the end.

The responses we got from people ranged from being suitably impressed to being completely overwhelmed.  No one gave us a bad report.  There were plenty of, “Thank you so much for putting this on!”  It was really cool seeing the faces of people as they walked through the archway into the marketplace.  That exceeded all their expectations.

The angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will be with child by the Holy Spirit

We had a range of activities to keep people interested during their time in the Marketplace.  Kids could be kept busy making baskets, clay models, Christmas tree ornaments and beads.  There were fresh cherries and berries you could buy in the fruit stall, Turkish delights in the sweet stall or mulled apple “wine” at the tavern.  Basically, we had something to suit all ages and tastes.

What we found interesting however was in the end, it was the final scene with Mary singing and Joseph’s message, that seemed to have the most impact on people, whether they were Christians or not.

Here are some of the comments we got back via Facebook or email:

“Thank you 😊. This was an incredible production. An experience my children and I will never forget and an absolutely beautiful way to ‘experience’ the story of Christmas.”

“What an amazing effort you guys pout in, absolutely loved spending my shekels in the market place, so authentic and busy and so much to see and to the young Mary, what a beautiful voice, very welcoming people, – thank you.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed the performance of all. Even the little ones getting in on the act. I can but imagine all that went on with building the set. Hats off to Mary’s singing. She was delightful to listen to.”

“That was off the chain!! Our teenage boys thought so as well; all 9 of them 😊. Thanks so much for taking us on a journey back to Bethlehem 2000 years ago, such an awesome production well set up and amazing people too ❤.. loved it!”

I remember those boys in the last comment.  They were on my tour (I was one of the Centurions).  I sat around their table in the café after we finished.  One of them started asking questions one after another – I couldn’t answer fast enough!  Here is part of the conversation:

“Hey bro – so Jesus was born a baby.  So, he was normal, just like us”
“Yes and No.  He was just like you and me.  But he had no badness – no sin.  You and me – we think and do bad things – right? We do stuff we regret.  Jesus didn’t do any of that – ever.”
“Did he cry when he was a kid?”
“Probably”
“Then he grew into a man and taught about God and did heaps of miracles”
“Then what?”
“He died – early.”
“How did he die?”
“On a cross”
“What’s a cross?”
“It what the Romans used to kill criminals [I made a symbol with my fingers] It’s a horrible death. They nail your hands to the cross beam and your feet to the pole. Before you can take a breath you have to lift yourself up which means putting pressure on the nail holes which makes it even more painful.”
He looks thoughtful at this point.  He was really thinking.
“So that’s it? He just dies?”
“No – he dies for our sin. While he was on that cross he was taking your badness and my badness on him and suffering for it.  Then he rose again from the dead…”

The conversation went on for another 15 minutes or so.  But it gives you some insight into how many people are really open to hearing the gospel – people that have absolutely no idea who Jesus really is or why he came.  This is why it’s so important that Christians are doing what they can to reach them.  Not everyone will be receptive.  But some – like this one, are.  And that makes events like this worth while.

It was a huge effort on the part of our church family.  By Sunday night we were all exhausted – especially those holding main roles the entire production through.  But it wasn’t only the actors.  It was all the behind-the-scenes people that worked so hard to bring things together as well as the families who were there in costume with their children from 5:00-9:00pm each night.

I’ve been involved with a lot of outreach events over the course of my ministry.  This by far outdoes them all.  I simply can’t wait to get my Centurion costume on again and share the good news of Jesus with more people in our community – as well as having a hang a lot fun along the way.  But that will have to wait for next year.

I’ll leave you with a little scene we captured on video on the final night.  The Inn Keeper gave the Centurions a lot of cheek over the course of the event.  They got their own back by arresting him and dragging him through the market.  Now that got us a few laughs!

Many thanks to:
  • Marty who literally spent hours of his own time building sets and arranging lighting and curtains (and who-else-knows-what)
  • The builders, carpenters, electricians, graphic artists and painters in our church who gave much of their time to this
  • Lizette and Liz and Sue and their helpers who hand-made many of the costumes
  • Kathryn, Katrina, Christie and the Eishler family who were there every day in the last two weeks doing finishing touches
  • The elders of our church who also threw themselves into this by way of prayer and support
  • To Rochelle, our church administer, who worked overtime behind the scenes taking calls and arranging bookings and producing handouts and signs
  • To Jada, who had the vision in the very beginning to make this happen.  She still has fond childhood memories of attending this at a church near her home growing up.
And most importantly, many thanks to:
  • Our Heavenly Father, who cared enough for a lost and rebellious humanity that he sent his own Son to redeem them
  • To the Lord Jesus, whose willingness to lay down his life on our behalf made our redemption possible
  • To the Holy Spirit, who empowers God’s redeemed people, and energizes them for such events as this
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The Christmas Journey

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.

The Inn Keeper (Sean) interacting with a Roman Centurion (Theo)

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.

Joseph (Shiloh) and Mary (Katherine) and one of three real babies (they get swapped between tours)

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.

 

Christmas and the end of performance

kogs-xmas-productionLast Sunday was our children’s Christmas production.  No one comes to these things with high expectations, because we all know that kids don’t get things perfect.  And they certainly didn’t on that day. Some kids forgot their lines, some wandered off stage at the wrong time, and others gave up singing and started waving at the audience.  One kid even yelled out, “Hi mum” at the most inconvenient time.

But everyone loved it.  No one cared that is wasn’t perfect.  After all – it’s Christmas.

This got me thinking: isn’t this the whole point of Christmas?  Isn’t this why Jesus came?

Try as we may, none of us are perfect.  We just don’t measure up.  We don’t measure up to our bosses.  We don’t measure up to our spouses (or partners).  We don’t measure up to our parents and we don’t measure up to our children.  And most importantly, we don’t measure up to a holy, righteous and perfect God.

This is precisely why Jesus came into the world.  Jesus came to deal with our imperfection (which the bible calls “sin”).  Jesus was a perfect baby (yes, he cried, but not like normal babies), who lived a perfect life and then died in the place of very imperfect people.  When you trust in his cross-saving work his perfection becomes yours and your imperfection becomes his.  This is the great doctrine of substitution.  It’s the key to our salvation and puts an end to all our attempts at flawless performance.  As the bible puts it,

“For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s a divine transaction, which is activated the moment you believe.  From that time on God views you differently.  He doesn’t see your sin.  He only sees His Son’s righteousness.

What does this mean in real life?  It means you can quit trying to please everyone and do everything perfectly.  You can relax.  As my teens say – “Take a chill pill.”

This Christmas, give your husband or your wife a break.  Parents – give your kids a break.  Bosses – give your employees a break.  We’re all flawed and make mistakes.  It’s OK if people forget their lines and wave at mum.

Don’t lose the plot.  This is precisely why Jesus came.