TITLE: not just for christmas
By collette mcfarland
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I hadn’t wanted to go. It was late at night (six P.M) and cold to boot, but my husband had helped build some of the sets this year and was a character in one of the skits so I had to go as a good wife to show support, though I doubted I would recognize him or anyone would notice if I had been absent.
Since it was a damp, foggy, misty night in December the presentation wasn’t cancelled, as I had hoped and prayed for. It was hosted by numerous churches in the area of all denominations. Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ's, ect, were all unified in one body to present the Christmas message. This was the third year of this intrusion into my life, this interruption of my quiet evening at home, but it was the first time I thought to bring people with me to be tortured also. I reasoned, at least we could sit in the car talking and poking fun at the dopes standing out in the elements of nature making icicles of themselves. It was an outside event, lined up along the Trinity River, where we could drive our cars past all the stages complete with actors playing their parts. I had gotten there early so we could get it over with quickly.
Cars were lined up along the shoulder of the main thorough fare ready to turn off the road into the park that had been reserved for the presentation. Cars sped past us on the left. I was envious of them, going home probably to get ready for work in the morning, in a nice heated home, while we sat in a line with a weak car heater. My friends and I chatted about various things and I kept explaining to them why we were here again and again. They wanted to be home also.
We used our time waiting wisely, gossiping about people we knew who had interesting, secretive lives. We imagined if they didn't want to tell us about their private lives we'd just make stories up to satisfy our hunger for malicious rumors. After all if they lived honorably they wouldn't have secrets!
For example Mindy, our unit secretary, always hanging around our male supervisor, has suddenly shown up pregnant, claiming the father is a husband we don't believe exists. And the guy with HIV we all tried to avoid. After a while I began to wonder what my "friends" said about me when I wasn't present. Oh well, a little gossip never hurt anybody.
The line of cars started moving and we were handed a free CD at the entrance to narrate the scenes we would pass. The CD's were timed with the ride and coincided with each numbered stage so we could stay on tract. The first we past of course was the nativity scene. The only set that had anything to do with Christmas. (Why call this Celebrate Christmas, for only one scene in twenty! go figure.) A woman, man, and young child were surrounded by live animals. Everything was authentic and we oohed and ahhed. Then came Jesus in the shop with his dad, Jesus at the temple, Jesus at a wedding. Actors were dressed up for the affair with colorful outfits dancing and partying, holding wine glasses near water barrels. We were getting quieter the deeper into Jesus' live we drove as we listened to the recitation coming from my speakers.. The scenes of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus sending her home to sin no more; the ten lepers no one wanted to touch, yet Jesus cured, and only being thanked by one; the pool of Bethesda with the infirmed squirming on the ground. Wow. These actors were really into their parts. The ground was hard and soggy, to say the least, from the light drizzle descending. We past as some man Jesus called from his grave joined his two sisters.
Then came the trial where a Jesus impersonator was being beaten, spit on, and slapped by a horde of ugly people who tore his clothes off, then he was hauled off carrying a cross, falling onto his knees, being roughly pulled to his feet only to fall again. I slowed the car from five miles an hour to a stand still for a longer look at the three crosses, no one behind me honked as they would all probably do the same thing. We were free to spend as much time in front of each presentation as was reasonably necessary. Three men wearing beige body suits and a towel wrapped around their waists were attached (by rope, not nails!) to three crudely made wooden crosses. Do you think they actually sanded the crosses down for comfort 2000 years ago? In this cold, on this night I would have cancelled, three men so dedicated to the gospel message hung on three crosses, barely clad, for us to see the crucified Lord, to get a glimpse, however disproportionate, of what Christ himself endured for us. My friends were awestruck. We had stopped talking way back down the road. They had not had the church exposure I'd had. (But you couldn’t tell any difference in us the way we tittle-tattled earlier!) They only knew Easter for a fuzzy bunny with big protruding teeth and cavity provoking treats.
Then the tomb. An explosion of light with a man walking out in the center of a spotlight, his arms outstretched, strolling around the artificial crypt then going back in to re create the scene for the next line of cars, exiting his death chamber over and over again for the next two hours, while an angel (a real one?) paced and glowed on the stage's dome. All this was followed by a scene where Jesus was raised up into the sky; (actually it was a tree, and branches draped with cotton sheets hid him from view instead of a cloud, but oh well, so much for reality!) No one spoke. We all sat there, trying to keep tears from slipping out and embarrass us in front of each other.
A lady collected our CD to recycle for the next line of cars and invited us to go to a tent set up for discussions and refreshments. A night I had dreaded attending became a night I didn't want to end. Thank God prayers aren’t always answered our way! I was tempted to go back to the end of the line and cruise through again, or at the very least return tomorrow night, no matter what the weather brought!
Inside the tent we found our unit secretary, with her husband, manning a booth with booklets of the gospel of John. I felt my cheeks blush at the stories we'd been telling about her just minutes ago. She couldn't have heard us, could she? I felt so guilty I was sure I’d been exposed. I almost apologized to her but bit my tongue! A conscience is a bad thing to waste. The image of the HIV victim, Mark, popped up in my head, along side ten lepers who'd been healed by the master physician. I think starting tomorrow I'll spend some time getting to know Mark better.
Right now I need to get to know Jesus better. I was overcome with emotions as I witnessed my car buddies, friends I had just invited as an afterthought to avoid being here alone, accepting Christ in a prayer led by our supervisor. As it turns out he's a local preacher with a small congregation that includes our unit secretary. No wonder they spent so much time together at work, they were like family to each other. It seems Celebrate Christmas is the whole gospel message, for without a birth, there wouldn't be a sacrifice, death, resurrection and redemption! And without churches being unified in purpose there’d be no “Celebrate Christmas” to draw the public out on a cold December night, because one church couldn‘t do this event single handedly.
As we headed back to my car we passed a security guard and noticed a group of homeless gathering along the river rubbing their hands together and carrying their possessions. Obviously they were waiting for closing time.
“I guess it’s a pretty big job keeping them out of here at night?” I inquired of the guard.
“Oh no, they’re welcome to use the sets and hospitality tent for shelter these two weeks we have them up! I’m here to discourage vandals from destroying the stages or harming them,” he said, waving at the homeless. “We leave plenty of left over refreshments for them also. We purposely make more than enough.”
My bad. I should have known we wouldn’t build a play for Christ’s benefit and refuse the destitute shelter in it! Telling my friends I had forgotten something I ran back to the hospitality tent and dropped some more money in the donation jar.
2 Cor. 5:18-19
2 Cor. 12:20
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