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William D'Andrea

Invitation To Living Nativity

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Invitation to Living Nativity

 

by William D'Andrea

 


At 5 PM, on Sunday, December 16th, 2018, the 29th Annual Living Nativity will be held, in the Sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Greenlawn, New York, where I am a member. 

Many members of the Congregation will be taking part. Until a few years ago, we held the event outdoors on the front lawn. Some farm animals were brought in, and the high school girls who portrayed Mary, were seated on actual donkeys. Many people from the surrounding communities attended, seated upon bleachers that were rented for the event.

While I attended, I never could fully enjoy the activity. Late December here on Long Island, is just too cold to be outdoors any longer than necessary. A lot of members agreed with me, but the outdoor event continued anyway; until a few years ago, when a storm was predicted for that evening.

Then the event was moved indoors, to the front of the Sanctuary. A life size manger scene had been set up on the front lawn. Several of us men disassembled the construction, and rebuilt it indoors around the pulpit, where the event was held, exactly as it would have been outdoors; but in a warm place, and without the animals. That's how we've been presenting our Living Nativity ever since; and that's how it will be at this year’s Event.

This will be followed by a traditional Christmas Dinner, with all the trimmings, in the Fellowship Hall at 6 PM.

I'm normally one of the people who helps set up the tables and chairs, and then sets the tables.
 

A few years ago, on the morning before the Living Nativity and Dinner, just before worship began, the woman in charge of the whole event stood at the pulpit, requesting more volunteers to give a hand where it was needed.

She said, "We need more people to help set up the tables and chairs. So far, Bill is the only one who's signed up."

I sat there thinking "What? Me?  Hey, wait a minute! I'm the only one?"

Then I thought, "I hope they don't mind eating off the floor."

Fortunately more than enough members showed up, and everything worked out much better than we'd planned; in spite of our best efforts.

That was also on the day when I'd helped move the Manger Scene inside.

After everything was set up, the woman who's director of the Church's Youth Group told me, "Now you can finally enjoy it all."

I said, "'Enjoy’? What is that?" (That was a joke. I'm not being a Grinch.)

The dinner will be prepared by a professional chef, who is also a member of our Congregation, and volunteers his services. He is also an executive chef. He knows how to assign work; so we don't have a lot of people just standing around, not knowing what to do.

The first time I helped set things up, I saw the amount of food being prepared and I thought it might be too much. Then when I saw how many people were in attendance, I wondered if there would be enough.


xxxxxxxxxxxxx


I originally wrote and posted this part of the article three years ago, on a different writers website, where it received this review:

“It's a pity I don't live in your city, I would attend your Life Nativity. I see you think that you will have more than enough food and some people can take some home. May I suggest donating this food to a homeless shelter, or make more than enough so some of these poor people will have something to eat? Jesus will be very happy and smile at you.” 

In reply I stated:

“We do have our own food pantry, that's open to anyone in need. Also, the dinner is always open to the public, and people in need do show up. 

Back in 2012, we had a pre Thanksgiving dinner about one week after Hurricane Sandy struck Long Island, and it was a difficult time for all of us. That dinner was actually the first hot meal that some of the people had to eat, since the storm struck. 
A Merry Christmas to you.”
 

Xxxxxxxxxxxxx


Now I return to last year’s Event:

Last year’s Living Nativity was very different for me. A few days before the Event, I got a phone call from a woman named Debbie; the one who was in charge of the Event that year. She told me that a certain member of the Congregation, who was supposed to portray one of the Three Wise Men, would not be able to take part. She’d called to ask if I’d like to take the part.

I told her that I was already planning to help set up for the dinner, which we’d be doing at the same time when the afternoon rehearsal for the show was going on. She told me that this time, members of the cast would arrive early. They’d be the ones setting up the tables and chairs and setting the tables. So that was the end of my excuses. I wouldn’t be able to get out of portraying one of the Wise Men.

When the day came, while we cast members were helping set things up in the Fellowship Hall, I noticed that the two who’d be portraying the other Wise Men, weren’t there.

I told Debbie, “I wonder where those other two Kings of Orient are?”

That very lame joke got a laugh out of her.

Then about an hour before the performance was to begin, the other Two Kings had arrived. We went down to the Choir Room and got into our costumes. 

I got into a very long robe, which dragged along the floor. It had a belt around the waist, so I was able to lift up the garment, and draped it over the belt, so the hem came down to ankle length, and I wouldn’t be tripping over it. We also put on “crowns”. What I had on my head was a very uncomfortable circular thing, definitely not crafted by any hat maker.

I was also given some kind of elaborately painted empty jar, which was to be my offering to Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

Then we went upstairs to the Sanctuary, where a manger scene was set up at the pulpit, and surrounded by the fronts of buildings in Bethlehem. Members of the Congregation were dressed in Middle Eastern robes, portraying residents of the town; or shepherds. King Herod was seated upon his Throne, set up alongside the pews, about halfway between the entrance to the Sanctuary and the Manger Scene.

There were also children in white robes portraying angels.

Then the show began, which included recordings of Christmas Music and some live performances. The featured performer sang “Oh Holy Night”. She has a beautiful voice, and had been performing in the Pageant for several years, from her mid to late teens, and now into her twenties. 

One of the Kings later complained that she had given up her membership in the Congregation, and now only shows up to sing occasionally. I explained that she is now a married woman with a family of her own, and living an entirely different life in a different community. He shrugged, but still wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

Then, as the final part of the Event, we Three Kings entered. We went to King Herod, asking for directions. Then we went to the stable in Bethlehem, and presented our gifts before the manger with the baby doll Jesus.

There have been times when the baby Jesus was actually portrayed by a new born baby, with his mother walking beside the woman portraying Mary.

Then the show ended, and everyone in the pews applauded, along with us cast members.

After that we went on to the dinner, which was held in the Fellowship Hall of the Christian Education Building, which stands beside the Church Building. That’s when something disturbing occurred.

One member of the Congregation showed up. He was someone who none of us had expect to ever see at the Church again, for a very good reason. The man had been unfaithful to his wife. She had divorced him, and gone to live with their grown daughter in Indiana. That was enough of a scandal for many of us in the Congregation, to be surprised to see him among us once more.

He came over to the table where I was seated with the man who’d portrayed Joseph; and the one who’d portrayed Herod; along with one of the other Wise Men, along with their wives. He sat at the end of the table, and joined in the meal with us.

That was obviously a very uncomfortable situation. What were we going to say? “You don’t belong here”?

The last thing any of us wanted was any unpleasantness. So we all just sat there being uncomfortably pleasant with him; treating him as if nothing bad had happened.

The woman Debbie, who was in charge of the entire Event, came over with a big grin on her face, and spoke with a laughing tone.

“What are you doing with this…” either “despicable” or, “disgraceful” or, “dishonorable” or, “disreputable” or some other word that begins with the letter D. “…guy?”

Then she walked away, and we continued our uncomfortably pleasant dinner.

Now I wonder if our unexpected guest was being repentant, and trying to make amends. If he was, he’d come to the right place at the right time.

The reason Jesus was born into this world, was crucified, dead and buried, then rose again on the third day, is so that we would all receive forgiveness for our sins. The forgiven ones, include the man who showed up, making us uncomfortably pleasant at the dinner; if he was truly repentant. The forgiven sins, include the sins of each of one of us who participated in the Living Nativity, as long as we are repentant, and accept Christ as Savior. Amen.

A Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this. In Jesus’ Name. Amen. 

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

If anyone who’s reading this lives on Long Island; I welcome you to this year's annual Living Nativity; at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenlawn, New York; which is located on the southeast corner of Pulaski Road and Broadway-Greenlawn; in the Village of Greenlawn. The Nativity is scheduled for Sunday, December 10th at 5 PM, followed by the free dinner at 6.

There will be more than enough for you and your family to eat. You might even be able to take some home with you.

For further information please go to:

http://www.greenlawnpresbyterianchurch.org/eventscommunity.html

Edited by William D'Andrea

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