Last night, my wife and I, along with my daughter and her family, walked through “Walk Through Bethlehem,” an annual Christmas season production by Crossroads Ministry in Daytona Beach, FL. This is the second time I have gone, but the event is in its twenty-first season. Over two weekends, around 10,000 people walk through a recreation of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, built entirely on twenty-one acres of the church’s campus. The first time I went was two years ago. This time we brought along my two-and-a-half year old grandson, with the promise of seeing a camel. (For some reason, we thought there would be a camel there, but more on that later.)
We went early this year and were some of the first to arrive on the opening night of this years event. Greeted warmly by at least half-a-dozen people, we found out seats in the auditorium staging area, where we waited for our group to be called. Groups of about twenty go on the walk at a time, and while you wait, you get to listen to some great Christmas music by live soloists and ensembles. Since we came early, our wait was short, and before my grandson had consumed two snacks, we headed out with out group to Bethlehem.
We met our “tour guide” in a small hallway, who explained that she would get us in the gate and around the city, so stay close to her. A short walk brought us to the gates of the city, where Roman soldiers made sure we paid an appropriate tax to enter the city (a whole shekel per person!). Inside we followed our guide from place to place in Bethlehem. We went through a noisy market, stopped to visit people who made candles, baked bread, ran inns, sold fruit, made cloth and owned a home in Bethlehem. After we met some young men talking to a couple of priests, we met a carpenter who was being forced to make crosses and a blacksmith who had to make large nails. We finally met up with some shepherds who invited us to stay with them outside of the city, where we heard from an angel that the Christ had been born. When we got to the stable, we got to see a real live baby Jesus, surrounded by his mother and father and a cow and a donkey. After we heard the rest of the story, from the crucifixion to the resurrection of Jesus, we left Bethlehem, but not before grabbing a cooke and some hot chocolate.
We all enjoyed our visit to Bethlehem. I am impressed by and thankful for the hundreds of volunteers who make this happen each year. From those who play the parts to those who build and break down the sets to those who made sure we heard the gospel, this is a huge event. I appreciated how each stop on the journey added a piece to the puzzle of God’s Law, our sin, and the Christmas gift of salvation in the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. I got to be a part of the Christmas story along with shepherds, priests, Pharisees, merchants, soldiers, children and tax collectors.
The journey seemed shorter than my previous experience. My grandson like the sheep, cow and donkey best of all, but did appreciate the real live baby Jesus, too. He elected not to have his picture taken with a Roman soldier. (Oh, and there was no camel; that must have been a different live nativity at another church.)
Afterwards, we estimated that it would take at least three hundred volunteers to make this happen. They must begin planning the summer before. And I’ll bet every single one loves being a part of this. If you are in the Daytona Beach area, I encourage you to stop by and “walk through” Bethlehem.