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It’s the day between the two performances of The Journey to Bethlehem at Second Presbyterian Church. This walk-through theatrical presentation of the Christmas story has occurred annually for 39 years–with only one year off when the parking lot was being resurfaced. Upwards of 100 church people of all ages are involved in the planning, performance, and hospitality connected with this event. Rounding up that many volunteers is only one of the miracles that occurs each and every year.

For instance, somehow the role of a no-show actor–whether it’s one of the Three Wise Men or an Innkeeper or perhaps one of the Rabbis–gets filled on the spot by a replacement willing to “do the lines” on a moment’s notice. There’s always a costume that fits well enough. And the story goes on….

Over the years, the costume collection has grown to fill an entire room. The scenery? Well, that has spilled over into at least one remote storage unit. Actors may be recruited from the second or third generation of actors since the original production. Visitors who first saw the Journey as children are bringing their grandchildren. In fact, it’s a miracle that the tradition has survived–survived reluctant pastors, members complaining about the mess or the expense, and the general question of whether or not “we always do it!” is a good reason for doing it again. We are, after all, Presbyterians. Always asking questions, parsing the cost/benefit, reforming ourselves.

Every year, I anticipate The Journey with a mixture of joy and dread. Truth be told, as one of the original perpetrators, I’ve now backed away from much of the responsibility. So my stress level with the approach of Christmas is considerably reduced. I sign up for a part, and don my costume for the two nights, guiding groups of “travelers” along the road to Bethlehem. We visit Herod’s palace, we gasp at the appearance of the Angel, we gather around the campfire of the shepherds. We annoy the Innkeeper who has NO ROOM. And finally, we arrive with wonder at the stable, where Mary and Joseph watch over the long-expected Jesus.

And that’s the REAL Christmas. Let’s do it again next year!

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