“A Savior is born! a Savior is born!” Cries of young shepherds, running toward a stable where a brilliant star is shining down over a newborn baby boy cradled in a manger, set the scene for Hebron Baptist Church’s annual Bethlehem Village.
Nestled in the foothills of Afton, a highly dedicated group of volunteers is transporting delighted spectators back to the 1st century with one of the longest running Christmas productions in our area. The Bethlehem Project originated in the late 1990s when Hebron’s then-pastor, Jim Ailor, decided to recreate the historic city for people to come and experience it firsthand. The first years of Bethlehem, the village was set up in the church parking lot. Later, it was moved in the back of the parsonage. The entire village had to be taken down after each season was over and stored in a large trailer on site. In 2004, the decision was made to erect a permanent location next to the church to make it easier to get ready for each December’s opening.
After a several years’ hiatus because of the Covid-19 virus, the village will be once again welcoming visitors to the site of Jesus’s birthplace and the miracle that took place there. Far away from the tinseled trees and crowded shopping malls that most commonly usher in the Christmas holiday season, this is a family event no one should miss.
Imagine stepping back in time as you enter the gates of Bethlehem of Judea. The Roman emperor has issued an order that a census be taken throughout the empire and every citizen must register. On a cold winter’s night, you travel the ancient streets illuminated by torchlight, wandering deeper into the heart of the village where imposing Roman soldiers patrol the crowd. Wise men, shepherds, angels, and townspeople in period dress are among the many passersby. There is an olive press and a working bread shop with bread baked in a woodfired oven. Shopkeepers of that time period explain their vocations; a blacksmith, basket maker, musicians, and volunteers at a marketplace displaying typical foods of Biblical times are willing to answer any questions visitors may have. Live animals such a camels, donkeys, goats and chickens only add to the authenticity of the village. But the main reason people come back year after year is to witness the miracle of Jesus’s birth and what that birth has meant to mankind down through the ages.
This ambitious production blends together a dazzling array of authentic construction, costumes, and character roles to form the basis of the Christmas story. Along with members of Hebron, other community churches as well as local residents donate their time and talents to make the Bethlehem Village a quiet, sacred alternative to the busy, commercialized Christmas holiday of today. Spokespersons for the project encourage those living in the area as well as visitors to come out and participate in an event that truly captures the heart of the season. It is an effort to build and strengthen community ties and reach out to those seeking to know more about the love of Jesus Christ and establishing a personal relationship with the living God.
Perhaps one of the most differentiating aspects of Hebron’s live nativity is that visitors won’t spot Jesus right away. Much like the individual search for the Savior, one has to seek to find Him.
This year the event runs from Friday, December 15, from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, December 16 and Sunday, December 17 from 5 to 9 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed. Ample parking is available. Hebron Baptist Church is located at 66 Tanbark Drive in Afton, just off of Route 151. This year, bring your family to Bethlehem. It’s easy to find… just follow the brilliant star in the night sky!