While still newlyweds, my wife and I visited Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, the impossibly authentic re-creation of America’s first Pilgrim colony occupied by role-playing historian-actors who literally live out the daily lives of the original inhabitants. During the course of our day we visited with Alice Bradford as she caught, killed, plucked, and cooked a goose over a log fire! When we left, we felt like we’d emerged from a time machine.
Twenty years later we were planning our church’s Christmas Eve service, and wondered how we could immerse people in the Christmas experience just as we’d been immersed in the Pilgrim experience. What resulted was a “you are there” collection of four short plays about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, each performed in a different space, to which groups led by guides “journey.” The Christmas Experience has since been performed at hundreds of churches throughout the English-speaking world.
Christmas means “Christ’s sending” in Latin. But why was he sent? In a word: grace, the ultimate expression of God’s love in sending his only son to redeem a broken world. Here’s how that plays out in the four stories that make up The Christmas Experience (click on the titles to read or download the full scripts):
His Name is John (Luke 1:5-25; 57-80) Like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament,
Elizabeth and Zacharias are blessed with a baby long after normal child-bearing years.
“He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord,” they are told. But there are hints of suffering to come (the adult John would be beheaded for preaching this message). They are given a choice. Their response? “Yes!”
The King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-8; 16) tells the story of one who said, “No!” Herod, a ruthless ex-soldier set up as “King of the Jews” by Caesar, gets wind of a Messiah
sent to heal our broken world. Perceiving this as a threat, he sets out to kill the newborn savior (this event actually occurred some time after Jesus’ birth). “The one who controls the game,” he says, “is the one who wins!” Wrong. (Herod died a short time later, paranoid and disease-ridden, as broken as the world he claimed to rule.)
No Room! (Luke 2:7; Matthew 19:26). If His Name is John is about preparing the way for Christ, No Room is about making a place for him when he arrives. The “innkeepers” in
rural Bethlehem were not hoteliers, they were simply householders who took in travelers. One innkeeper has “no room”–in his home or in his heart. But his wife is willing to make room, no matter what it takes.
Listen! A Shepherd’s Testimony (Luke 2:8-18) imagines what it would have been like to be the shepherds to whom the angels announced Christ’s birth. “It was like a tear in the sky,” one shepherd exclaims, “as though night were only a blanket and noonday just outside!”
The implications are staggering. What we call supernatural (above or beyond natural) is the true natural. It’s the world we live in that is the unnatural one, the broken shadow place hidden from “noonday just outside.” Heaven is all around us. And Christ was sent to tear away the veil that separates us from it–from the true Reality.
Elizabeth and Zacharias, the innkeeper’s wife, the shepherds–each responded to the Christmas experience with a “Yes!” that changed their lives–and our world–forever.
How do you respond?