Like pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, the village of Bethlehem lies in stacks of lettered and numbered wood panels in the park area of First Baptist Church in Thomson.
Soon those pieces will be reassembled to re-create One Night in Bethlehem. The drive-through living Nativity will be open from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Admission is free.
The entrance to the Nativity is from the Warrenton Highway.
One Night in Bethlehem uses more than 80 actors appearing in 10 scenes to depict the story of the birth of Jesus. Scripture-based narration accompanies visitors as they drive from scene to scene, with background music and the glow of firelight help create a sense of the time and place.
A variety of animals -- llamas, donkeys, sheep, and goats -- are part of the production.
This is the eighth annual presentation of One Night in Bethlehem, an event that has grown with each passing year. A record numbers of visitors visited the Nativity last year, when 722 vehicles carrying 2,259 visitors went through on the three nights.
"We had such a wonderful response last year, the biggest yet," said Nativity coordinator Kathie Mogish.
The increase in visitors has led Nativity planners to work with the Thomson police to create a slightly different traffic pattern for the 2007 Nativity.
The entrance will still be from the Warrenton Highway, but at a point farther west. Mogish said visitors should follow the bright red-and-white signs that mark the Nativity traffic pattern.
For the First Baptist family, One Night in Bethlehem has become its Christmas gift to the community.
"This is truly a churchwide effort," Mogish said. "There are ways in which almost every church member can be involved.
"It's exciting to watch so many people involve themselves to help bring this to life each year. We really do think of this as our Christmas gift to everyone who drives through."
The First Baptist family takes the Nativity very seriously as an outreach effort. Before the cast goes out each night onto the Nativity set, the Rev. Jim Ramsey, the pastor, reminds everyone that this could be the night that someone who has never heard the story of Jesus Christ will hear it for the first time.
"That's an important consideration for us as a church family," Mogish said. "We're very conscious of the fact that we're telling the story of God's greatest gift to the world, the gift of salvation.
"And that's a gift that not everyone has accepted. If we help lead someone closer to that gift, then every minute of work that we've put into the Nativity has been more than worth the effort."
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