By CHERIL VERNON
PALESTINE — In the hustle and bustle of the busiest time of the year, it can be easy to lose sight of the meaning of the season.
However, for more than 20 years, Grace United Methodist Church has blessed the community with a reminder of the “reason for the season” through its annual living nativity.
Grace UMC will hold its 22nd annual event from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at 1918 E. Murchison St.
“This is our gift to the community! The gospel is a life-changing, life-enhancing, life-giving message and we want to present it that way,” Grace UMC pastor The Rev. Phil Chamberlin said. “This is a great way for our church to come together and do something as a team that reaches the community with the message of Jesus.”
Palestine residents and visitors may notice a bright search light in the sky Sunday to help find the baby Jesus sleeping in the manger.
“Every year, there is something a bit different that we are always trying to tweak to exhibit the message as new and interesting,” Chamberlin said. “Like two years ago, we added the searchlight. It was a late add with a day's notice and a lot of scrambling. It went from a brainstorm after the first night of 'wouldn't it be nice if...' to us frantically scouring the area to rent one.
“Our folks are very 'can do!' The search light we have comes from Dallas now,” he added. “The first year people thought a new Target was opening or something. It was hilarious!”
Chamberlin said the living nativity is a good reminder of what that first Christmas was like.
“It was cold in that stable. The animals smelled. Mary had been on a donkey at nine months pregnant,” he said. “Have you ever been around a 9-months pregnant woman? Everything is miserable for them.
"Joseph hadn't made reservations. But in the midst of the mess of that situation, Jesus was born. In the midst of all that manure, a holy moment happened,” he added. “And Jesus came to earth to meet us in the mess and manure of our mistakes and lead us out of it.
“It's the vulgarity of the grace of God. You don't have to be perfect to come to him. No perfect people allowed in fact. You don't have to have it all together. Just come and see Christ the Savior who is born for all of us. It's why we have as a church the tagline: 'the people of the second chance.' His grace is enough!”
This will be the last year Grace UMC will hold the living nativity in this particular location.
“This nativity will be our last one in this location on Murchison Street. Next year, we'll be in our new location at the main campus on Country Club Road,” Chamberlin said. The church purchased the former Meadowbrook Country Club in November.
In addition to the living nativity, there will be refreshments inside the church for visitors.
“I know that folks are busy with their shopping, wrapping, partying and spending time with their family, but if they will pause to come out as a family, it will bless their Christmas and make it very special,” Chamberlin said. “Plus they can come in for awesome cookies and wassail. And there will be a surprise inside the building when they come!”
The living nativity comes together through the work of a team of volunteers.
“We have a team of dedicated folks who start very early in the year planning, dreaming, evaluating last year and beginning the long process of getting ready,” Chamberlin said. “Every option is scrutinized. Each garment is hand-made and nothing is ever just standard.
“It is always done with extreme attention to detail. That's a trademark of what's kept the nativity running so long,” he added. “The team runs various other teams from hospitality to prayer to food to animal care to cast members.
“But after it is all over, we always end up saying 'Wow, God!' We love it.”