Brenda Shaw is a member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Parry Sound, Ontario.
- Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if this were always what the thought of Christmas brings to mind? Instead, for so many, Santa Claus, commercial jingles and the hustle and bustle of shopping define Christmas. Jesus' birth defines Christmas for us as Christians, but while reading the Christmas story is great and watching a movie about it wonderful, what could we do to make it a real tangible part of our lives that we could share with our community? This was the question that arose at our Small Group evening in the Fall of 1995. After much discussion, we realized that the "Live Nativity" and "Bethleham Walks" taking place in other towns and cities could be part of our Christmas celebration too.
Before leaving our small group that evening, we committed ourselves to pray about it. We also felt that if we could find the appropriate animals, we would approach our pastor, Rev. Jack Archibald, and the session. The very next day, a friend was visiting and I mentioned our group's idea. She suggested we phone a farmer she knew who had donkeys. Another friend in our local Gideon camp was contacted also, and before we knew it, we had a full stable! With a Bethlehem Star donkey (named for the star on his back), cow and calf, sheep and goats ready to bring our Nativity to life, our pastor and session gave us their enthusiastic support and the fun began!
We had two busy months of preparation. Members of our small group headed various committees. Elders built the shelter to house our animals. Others kept the scene of our nativity clear of snow. Costumes were rounded up at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. Casting included the characters of Mary, Joseph, three kings, and shepherds and innkeepers (who happened to run a Bed and Breakfast in real life). Advertising, scheduling and finding volunteers all fell into place. Our church location proved ideal. It is located on the main street that weaves through town and attracted people walking or driving by. At the Nativity Scene we sang carols and served hot chocolate. Our Sunday School Christmas Pageant was scheduled to follow the nativity scene and we know that the Christmas story was presented in two very different ways those evenings. This year, the Live Nativity Scene will be held in conjunction with our "Backdoor Cafe" — a coffee house ministry that features an informal musical evening.
What began as a small group idea has grown to be a congregational effort and is now a tradition in our community. As we stand together around the creche singing of our Saviour's birth, the sights, sounds (and yes, the smells) of that blessed first Christmas become ours. We are part of history but very much in the present. The looks of wonder on children's faces as they touch the animals and see "baby Jesus" nestled in the hay, show us that this is what the thought of Christmas will bring to their minds. We know that our Nativity may not be historically accurate, but the essence is there. For those of us who have experienced a "live Nativity," Christmas has never been the same. Truly it is a Silent Night and a Holy Night.