Clifton’s Immanuel Lutheran Church offering of drive-through live nativity depicting the birth of Jesus and life of the Christian Savior an annual gift of love
CLIFTON – With all the television commercials focusing on Christmas gift giving, people tend to get caught up in the stress of making sure everybody on their gift lists are catered to. In all the hustle and bustle of the weeks leading up to Christmas, Clifton’s Immanuel Lutheran Church concentrates on the most important story in Christianity – the birth and life of Christ.
With that in mind, the Immanuel Lutheran Church congregation shares the story in the form of a live nativity called “The Perfect Gift,” because through his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. And in trusting him as the savior, people need not fear death, because God gives his children the gift of eternal life – the Perfect Gift.
The massive production on Dec. 18 engages about 80 congregation members and friends. But many, many more worked behind the scenes making décor, sewing costumes, bringing in the chickens, goats, donkeys and camels and hauling in the over 40 round bales that lined the route and 90 square bales as part of the biblical scenes.
And not to forget the technical aspect – by utilizing a QR code on smart phones – of the audio narration the folks in the cars could listen to as they drove by the 13 scenes. At the end of the long line of waiting cars, event volunteers helped explain the process and the technicalities.
As the visitors passed the various religious scenes in the nativity presentation in the comfort of their warm vehicles, they heard the story of Jesus the Savior and why he really is the perfect gift from God to mankind. As the narration for each scene came to an end, they heard sleigh bells – indicating to pause the narration and to move on to the next scene.
The church’s first drive-through live nativity in 2019 was staged in pre-COVID-19 times, and it has grown ever since. During COVID-19 restrictions 182 cars passed through. This year with 137 cars it was a little less. But with an average of four people per car, it would mean over 500 people saw the impressive, spiritual displays.
“We are super pumped about the turnout,” co-organizer Dana Chastain said. “If we made a difference in just one or a few lives, then we are successful. We’re praying many come to touch lives, but trusting our Lord and Savior brought exactly who he wanted.”
And the organizers are already making plans to improve on what they already have for the 2022 Nativity.
“We want to share the love of Jesus’” said Vacancy Pastor Joe Ardy, explaining why the church organizes this wondrous display.
Historically, Immanuel Lutheran was the German Lutheran church amongst the Norwegian Lutheran churches in the community. Where language was the difference maker in the past, today the church is considered the more conservative Lutheran church, taking the Scriptures more literally and remaining unchanging in the face of contemporary culture.
In that vein, in a world of increased commercialization surrounding Christmas time, the church’s Christmas production is primarily to get Jesus’ gospel out to the public. And they do it in a very special and big way that is enjoyed by people all around Clifton.
Ardy was seated at the entrance of the drive-through with Linda Wiese, asking people where they came from – Cayote, Valley Mills, Clifton, a family in from Chicago.
After the warm welcome, visitors first saw “God promises a savior to Prophet Isaiah,” with the text from Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
That was followed by Angel Gabriel coming to Mary, telling her she would conceive and bring forth a son, and that his name would be Jesus. And then an Angel appeared in Joseph’s dream telling him to marry Mary. And that their son Jesus would save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-21)
The next three scenes depicted Roman Empire Ruler Caesar Augustus’ decree that all should be registered and counted so the Empire could impose taxes. This decree had Mary and Joseph leaving Nazareth and traveling to Bethlehem, the birthplace of their ancestors. In the Nativity, vendors lined Bethlehem’s streets offering their wares, like chickens, goats, corn, bread, clay pots, fabrics and more.
At the Manger scene, shepherds, the three Wise Men from the East bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh gather around the manger. Oblivious of all the cars, camels and donkeys quietly munched away on ha. In the manger was a real, sweet sleeping baby looked over by her loving and caring parents playing Mary and Joseph.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." (Luke 2:6-16)
The messenger angels’ halos sparkled in the darkness. Five large 6 x 14-foot print panels were scenes from Jesus’ ministry from various accounts in the four Gospels and were new to the drive-through. They depicted Jesus preaching the Holy Scriptures as a young boy, changing water into wine and feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and calming a great storm.
The narration explained, that as impressive as Jesus’ public ministry was, it was not his primary mission on earth. The Perfect Gift was revealed in a way nobody expected but had been long-planned in the secret counsels of Almighty God.
The religious leaders of the Jewish people were threatened by Jesus’ teachings and the miracles he performed. They considered him a blasphemer and a false prophet and a threat to their religious leadership and they plotted how to get rid of Jesus.
The next scene visitors to the Immanuel Lutheran drive through Nativity saw Jesus kneeling by a delicate blooming tree, in front of a beautiful garden backdrop of a garden --the Garden of Gethsemane. The visitors saw Jesus’ arrest by soldiers and then carrying the cross on the way to his Crucifixion.
The very last scene depicted Jesus’ resurrection scene and the empty tomb with a magnificently lighted angel announcing that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive.
As the Bible puts it: “And the angel answered and said unto them, Fear not, for I know that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified.6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6)
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. And when trusting Jesus as savior, people need not fear death, because God gives his children the free gift of eternal life here and now, life that continues in eternity with him in heaven
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus truly is THE PERFECT GIFT! And at the end of the drive-through Steve Schmidt offered the visitors a candy cane parting gift and the wish for a blessed Christmas.
“We pray that this experience will be a blessing to you and your family as we all pause during this busy season to focus on the true meaning of Christmas,” the introduction to the Live Nativity tour The Perfect Gift stated. “Christmas is not just a national holiday but is rather a day observed and celebrated around the world with many different customs and traditions that often vary from family to family.
"Older generations recount memories from the past and stories of their youth, and families and friends share love and laughter as they come together for holiday festivities. We wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, The Perfect Gift!”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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