Take a trip to the Holy Land
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent December 5, 2012 11:46AM
Jonie Roxburg (from left), Rachel Leininger and Jonee Schultz, dancers in Bethlehem and for the wedding. | SUBMITTED PHOTOS
If you go
What: “Travel to Bethlehem”
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Christ’s Mission Church, 22811 S. Cedar Road, New Lenox
Contact: 815-485-2059 or visit www.christsmission.org
Updated: January 7, 2013 6:36AM
More than 2,000 years ago, the people of Bethlehem were so busy “eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage,” (Luke 17:24), they failed to recognize their savior when he appeared to him.
With that in mind, the members of Christ’s Mission Church in New Lenox have two questions for you. Will you recognize Jesus when he appears to you this holiday season and will you be ready for him when he once again returns?
“People get too caught up in Christmas,” said Keith Leininger, pastor. “They’re so busy with the lights and the presents, they completely miss the true meaning of the celebration.”
This is why, since 1987, the church has offered its “Travel to Bethlehem,” a free, all-ages, living interactive pageant. A church member thought of the event after hearing the words “Bethlehem” and “marketplace” on the radio. She presented the idea to Leininger and convinced him the church needed to share it with the community.
“She had this picture in her head that I assumed was from the Lord,” Leininger said. “The idea grew from there.”
This is how “Bethlehem Marketplace” works. After first receiving seven “denarii,” adults and children alike may register for the census, meet Roman soldiers and townspeople and barter with shop owners.
“We don’t really sell anything,” Leininger said. “It’s all pretend.”
The marketplace experience includes stopping at the inn, negotiating the animals (real sheep, goats, rabbits and doves), sampling period food and drinks, participating in a wedding ceremony, enjoying the street dancers, helping the shepherds find the baby and meeting the three wise men from the east.
“Whenever you hear the shofar — the ram’s horn — blow, one of two things are happening: a wedding or a procession out of Bethlehem to the manger,” Leininger said.
Patrons eventually exit the marketplace (really, the church’s gymnasium) and walk down the darkened corridor to the tour gathering room (the stable) and up to the manger where the newborn Jesus — a live baby — is lying. There participants will hear a song, “Salvation Came to us as a Baby,” sung by either a soloist or Mary.
“It’s such a powerful moment,” Leininger said.
People then exit into the sanctuary to hear an original poem reflecting the event. Members distribute gifts as patrons leave. This last is often a surprising feature. Many expect to hear requests for free-will donations.
“Normally, when we experience a production like this, we pay for it,” Leininger said. “But we want to emphasize the simple fact that the Gospel is free, salvation is free, God’s love is free and forgiveness is free. People are always trying to buy God’s favor but the truth is all they have to do his receive his grace. It’s all been paid for by him. This is so different from the world where we get nothing for free.”