I wish you could’ve been with us yesterday when hundreds of onlookers inside and outside government offices stopped to watch, listen, and take endless photos of Mary, Joseph, a cooing Baby Jesus, and the rest of the Live Nativity players! What makes this spectacle on Capitol Hill so meaningful is that the Gospel of CHRISTmas is right at the heart of the display! We do no preaching during the Live Nativity–just a reading of the Gospel account of that first Bethlehem Christmas from Luke 2. But these powerful words are heard against the backdrop of the Manger Scene in the shadow of the Capitol Dome and US Supreme Court!
Today we re-staged the Live Nativity on the set of the Fox News Network in midtown Manhattan in New York City. Our actors and live animals–including Junior the Camel, his donkey friend, two sheep, and a calf–were featured live on Fox and Friends and were part of taping for the Fox Christmas Special to be aired later this month. Someone asked me why we do this Live Nativity program. Well, the answer is for two reasons: 1) Christmas is a unique time of the year when hearts and minds are open to the Christian message in ways they just aren’t at any other time. That’s as true here in Washington as it is anywhere else. 2) The Live Nativity is a compelling way of communicating the Gospel in a micro-burst of imagery–just what “This Town” needs with its incurable attention deficit!
Every year more people follow along as our Nativity procession winds its way in front of the offices of US senators and between the US Capitol and Supreme Court. The only time a voice was heard in the drama was when I read the nativity narrative from Luke 2, and when recording artist Nathan Kistler sang beautifully the classic Christmas hymns O Come, O Come Immanuel, O Holy Night, and Silent Night. Otherwise the event is non-stop iconography in motion.
One of our visiting pastors told me his impression of the Live Nativity was its completely positive witness. How could it be anything else? CHRISTmas is about the Good News that a Savior has been born to us, “Christ the Lord!” It’s about “Peace on Earth and good will to men.” It’s a positive message for a desperate people.
This “new tradition” we’ve started on Capitol Hill is fast becoming a much anticipated event. Throughout the year members of congress, White House officials, even judges have asked, “Are you doing the Nativity this year?” I want to assure them we will stage the Live Nativity again next year–and every year after until Jesus returns! I can only do that, however, if friends like you help us with generous financial support. Will you take a moment to make a tax-deductible gift for the Live Nativity? Your contribution will mean even more people in America’s capital city will see and hear the Christmas Gospel.
Please make your tax-deductible gift online now. You may also phone in your gift to Patty Bills at 202-734-8732, or mail your check or money order to Faith and Action, 109 2nd St, NE, Washington, DC 20002. If you believe it’s important to portray and proclaim the true Christmas message–the real reason for this season–please help with your online gift now!
A blessed Advent and Merry CHRISTmas to you and yours!
Your grateful missionary to Washington, DC,
Rev. Rob Schenck
The Live Nativity begins tomorrow, Tuesday, December 3rd, but we’re still $20k away from our fundraising goal for this off-budget expense. Will you give a gift (any amount helps!) that will enable millions to hear the story of Christ’s birth during the CHRISTmas season? You can give by using Paypal http://alturl.com/4mrb6 or by calling (202) 546-8329. Please share this with friends, and support us in prayer! We’ve raised $5k of the $25k total needed to fund this event and will give updates throughout the day of our progress as we countdown to the Live Nativity. It begins tomorrow morning in Washington, DC, then travels to New York City to be featured on the Fox and Friends national television program.
For the past several years, Faith and Action has sponsored the only Live Nativity procession seen on Capitol Hill. When actors portraying Mary, Joseph, and a cooing Baby Jesus, make their way down Constitution Avenue with a shepherd boy, three Wise Men, and a real live camel, a donkey, and a sheep in their wake, it commands attention. And when the biblical entourage pauses between the iconic facades of the United States Supreme Court and the U.S Capitol buildings, the imagery becomes forever memorable. We can predict a parade of picture-taking tourists, various other passers-by, and even a police officer or two that will ask to pet Junior the Camel! Sometimes called, “Bethlehem in Motion,” or, “The Cruising Creche,” it’s always a big hit, but the most important element is the question it provokes each year, most often asked by a reporter:
“Why are you doing this?”
The answer is at once simple and profound. The Live Nativity is full of meaning–as it always is–but especially against the backdrop of the nation’s capital city. The Christmas montage projects a message in nanoseconds:
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Give me an hour to preach on that verse and I won’t even get close to exhausting its meaning or its implications for all of us–and for all of “them.” “Them” being the inhabitants of the two big structures framing the scene: The Court and the Capitol. Of course, these two buildings represent just two of three branches of our American federal government. There’s a third building, the White House, just a ten-minute drive to the northwest. Together the three are a metonymy for the whole of American government–and by extension–the whole of earthly government. Before I explain more of the significance of that, though, I’ll point to just a few more “general” reasons to stage a live nativity anywhere–and everywhere.
First, humans have always been visual learners. Pictures are literally worth a thousand words. Thank God the tableau of the Holy Family is still recognizable to the majority of at least westerners, and, because of the globalization of the Internet, to many others from around the world. Christianity is the only religion embodied in a huddled mom, dad, and babe. Our own country remains a very religious one, with a sustained majority self-identifying as one form of “Christian” or another. The same is true of the men and women elected to high office, and, likewise, the ones they in turn appoint to non-elected posts. My point is, most onlookers at our annual nativity know in an instant what they are looking at and its meaning. The “CHRIST-mas” message is communicated in a nanosecond, and it’s a message for every human being in every place at every time. Still, there’s something about projecting the Bethlehem Gospel against the backdrop of federal government that makes it a unique exercise.
Since before the construction of the city of Babel, earthly government has been in tension with heavenly rule. The conflict between church and state is located primarily in the proclivity of the state to presumptuously assume the role and identity of the church; that is, for the earthly power to attempt to subsume the heavenly power. This phenomenon manifests itself routinely here in Washington when earthly potentates arrogate to themselves the role of “gods.” This is nothing new–politicians playing God–it’s been going on since Babel and before. All this to say, the people that inhabit places like Washington need reminders they are not God. The Nativity drama does just this by reminding all who see it that there is a true, eternal, and universal Savior born of royal blood who is the potentate of potentates, King of kings, and Lord of lords. And look at the place of that miraculous event: “the city of David.” David was a king–an earthly potentate–a government leader. So, it seems God wishes for this great revelation to be made in citadels of earthly power. Why? To remind those that exercise earthly power that their ability to do so ultimately comes from God who is the source of and the sovereign over all forms of power.
So, our Live Nativity on Capitol Hill is Christmas on display, a reminder to all of the true reason for the season, and a recalibration to reality. It sets the record straight on who’s in charge, who really commands the ships of state, and to whom we must all ultimately look for salvation–in temporal and eternal forms. The Live Nativity does this in a very positive, appealing, and compelling way.
Oh, and there’s one more reason we stage our Live Nativity on Capitol Hill: The production is a robust exercise of our God-given First Amendment guaranteed rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, the free exercise of religion, and, well, if you really want to stretch it, freedom of the press, since it is, after all, the Good “News!” As I’ve written and said countless times, rights are like muscles–if you don’t use them, you lose them. So, prayerfully think about staging your own Live Nativity near your local seat of earthly power–say, in front of your town or city hall, county seat, courthouse, or state capitol. You’ll be amazed at all the good it will do for you, for your community, for your nation, and for your world!