December 21, 2018

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Live Nativity makes Jesus come alive and offers new perspective

Debra Tomaselli“Beat this!” Lynn, 9, held a French fry aloft.

Jenna, 6, rummaging through her Happy Meal, dangled a competitor.

“Nope,” Lynn said. “This one’s longer.”

Laughing, they gobbled the food.

My husband was away on business, and McDonald’s simplified dinnertime. But tonight, the food didn’t satisfy my hunger.

There was something else I wanted, something else I needed.

I checked my watch. There was still time. For weeks, I’d driven past a banner announcing an upcoming live Nativity at a nearby church.

It sounded fun, but I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t my church. I wouldn’t know anyone. I’d get lost. I’d be without my husband.

There were a million reasons not to go, still … a nagging inner voice insisted.

Then I noticed Stephannie, a mom from our parish, eating burgers with her children. I decided to say hello.

Within moments, I learned her husband was out of town, too. I told her about the live Nativity. “There’s live animals,” I said. “The kids will love that.”

Stephannie agreed.

It was a beautiful night, with dark, starry skies. There, in an open field, sat a makeshift Bethlehem, complete with donkeys, sheep and goats.

“But you, Bethlehem … out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Mi 5:1). The commentator, a gray-haired shepherd with a booming voice, delivered the opening line.

Familiar scenes unfolded, as Joseph and Mary, pregnant and riding a donkey, were turned away by innkeepers. Finally, she gave birth in a stable.

Angels appeared to shepherds. Wise men brought gifts.

Suddenly, the set darkens. The gray-haired commentator reappears, identifying himself as Joseph of Arimathea. He was a boy when the couple arrived in Bethlehem, seeking shelter. He remembers. He recalls the townspeople buzzing with wonder and excitement, thinking this child is the long-awaited Messiah.

“Years later,” he says, “I saw him.”

His voice cracks with emotion.

“They nailed him to a tree,” he says. “I saw him.”

For a moment, it’s dead silent.

Suddenly, floodlights flicker on. A chorus proclaims, “O Come Let Us Adore Him.” We see the manger scene. It’s the grand finale, as, one by one, the actors reappear, approaching the infant and kneeling in reverence.

Then, surprisingly, a family from the audience joins them. Their contemporary appearance is a sharp contrast against the ancient scene. It catches my breath as a powerful realization arises.

This story isn’t for the history books. This story is for now. This story is for you. This story is for me.

For years, I attended that live Nativity, bringing family, friends and neighbors. Every “grand finale” touched me. Seeing contemporaries kneeling alongside Bethlehem townspeople brought tears to my eyes and deepened my faith—every time.

The play is long gone, just a distant memory now. But its message remains.

Can you picture it? Maybe this offers a new perspective.

Keep those Christmas programs coming. You never know who you are reaching. Make Jesus come alive.

O come, let us adore him.

(Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Florida. She can be reached at

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