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Blessings of Bethlehem still bountiful

Blessings of Bethlehem still bountiful

MONTICELLO – Over 942 pilgrims visited First UMC’s 16th annual “Bethlehem in Monticello” live nativity on the evenings of Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4-5.

As visitors entered the field on their way toward the constructed city of Bethlehem, they encountered Wise Men with their camels, who shared the story of their journey of following the star predicting a newborn king.

Heading along the road to Bethlehem, they passed by shepherds in the field, watching their flocks of sheep, who share the proclamation of the angel of the savior being born in Bethlehem. Coming to the city gates, all were directed by Roman soldiers to the census-taker before entering the city of Bethlehem, where they encountered the filled inn and a hands-on marketplace, including baby goats, chickens and the best camel’s hair in the district.

Passing by the storytellers sharing rumors of the birth, blacksmiths and carpenters working their trades and women at the well, visitors encountered the nativity scene with Joseph, Mary, angels and livestock. Townspeople in costume mingled with the visitors, vendors advertised their wares, and Joseph with Mary on a donkey were seen occasionally making their way through the crowds of visitors before being turned away at the inn and directed to the stable.  

Wise men and camels loaded with presents
Camels bearing gifts for the newborn king help the Wise Men and other biblical characters tell the story of Jesus' birth. Photos from First UMC, Monticello.

All were invited afterward for cookies, hot chocolate and hot cider while listening to live Christmas music.  

This year, the site of Bethlehem was expanded, so a call went out for volunteers to don costumes to help fill up Bethlehem and be part of the experience.  A special thanks to the FSU (Florida State University) Wesley Foundation of Tallahassee, as well as Waukeenah, Miccosukee and Wacissa United Methodist churches and other local churches and community volunteers who responded.  Over 100 cast and support members came together to share the experience as a gift to the community and to help direct people’s attention to a “stable influence” this Christmas season. 

Also in the cast of characters were Jeremiah and Amazing Grace (camels), Reba and G. Lee (donkeys), Lily and Petunia (manger sheep) and a number of yet-to-be-named baby goats, chickens, and field sheep.

The response thanking First UMC for being such a blessing to the community has been great, and we are continuing to receive messages and emails from participants and visitors. One mother shared that her son was so fascinated that he made her go through three times.

Some of the biggest blessings for me, however, were not just those who came, but seeing everyone give of their time and hearts, coming together and working together for a common mission outreach to our community.  It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of blessing.

– Rev. John Hicks is pastor of First UMC, Monticello.