Believing in the magic of Christmas is lovely but believing in the truth of Christmas has lasting consequences. Advent season brings a flurry of celebrations, often growing more elaborate and glitzy each year; however, many, while delightful, have little to do with the true spirit and holiness of the earthly birth of mankind’s Savior.
Having attended many holiday celebrations throughout the years, scores dedicated to a generous and jolly ol' fella who’s worn a variation of red suits over the years, to the Christian celebrations and pageantry surrounding the season, most have been designed to lift hearts and spirits. I’ve loved the children’s performances dedicated to Baby Jesus and the wonderful hymns of celebration to an innocent baby born in dismal circumstances, certainly not fit for a king. I’ve proudly watched as my oldest grandchild as a tender three-month-old portrayed the Baby Jesus in our church play, and I’ve listened to the glorious sounds coming from a living Christmas tree at the same home church.
We’ve been fortunate to attend elaborate dancing light shows, toured gorgeously decorated buildings and watched fun holiday parades. From childhood, and this really dates me, I remember my parents making sure our family got to see the Nativity scenes at the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park and then trudged through my great granddad’s Irving College farm to bring home the best Clark Griswold representation of live holiday greenery; no store-bought trees for us.
However, as wonderful and uplifting as all these celebrations have been, few bring the spirit of the Advent season home to me as much as the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or more simply the Mormons, does. Warren countians Cordell and Miriam Crawford bless our community with a seasonal gift unlike other celebrations. For one weekend in December, the Crawfords and their church family give an amazing gift to our fair community. The story of Jesus comes to life throughout their Assembly Hall building on Highway 55 bypass during their Nativity Festival; paintings of the Advent and life of Jesus fill the walls.
There is a room dedicated to children, where they can be themselves, try on garments likely worn in Bethlehem time, make ornaments or pretend they are the lowly donkey by romping around in a playful donkey suit. It was touching to see my four-year-old granddaughter Esther (named for the Biblical queen) garbed in a simple blue dress and head scarf folding her hands in prayer over a manger holding a representative baby Jesus. The main room is filled with live performances of lilting voices and musical instruments celebrating the birth of Christ. But as joyous as all these are nothing quite brings the reality of Jesus’ birth alive for me as the hundreds of representative nativity scenes on display, or the stories the artwork tells. It rips at one’s heartstrings to listen as Cordell tears up explaining the significance of a Jim Gray painting with the various events in Christ’s life depicted throughout a mirage of intricate images in The Story. Along with the paintings were carefully positioned hand-sewn quilts, the work of Hannah O’Neal, illustrating an array of beautifully done holiday scenes.
From elaborate, ornate porcelain nativity scenes to whimsical camels and donkeys in shoes to those representing Russian, Italian, Greek, Native American and so many more Advent settings, the story of the Holy Birth comes to life with profoundness and clarity. What really became evident is the belief that a glorious life after earthly death is found in every part of the world and in all generations for more than 2,000 years. At the heart of this is the sacrifice of a tiny babe given by His Father to save a sinful world; the ultimate story for the ages, transcending all earthly events.
To the Crawfords and their church family who shared the joy of the season with those of us fortunate enough to stop for a few moments on a Sunday afternoon, thank you for a poignant reminder of the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Yes, Cordell and Miriam, the saving grace of the Christ Child is alive and everlasting.