Blanco County's own Living Nativity Pageant was the subject of a news story on National Public Radio last week, broadcast nationally and posted for world-wide access on the NPR website.
Reporter John Burnett came to Johnson City to interview First United Methodist Church Pastor Sid Spiller and pageant director Dale Hardy about the production and how it brings together all the elements of the story of the birth of the Christ Child from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The point of his story was that the familiar tale of Mary and Joseph in the stable, the angels and the shepherds, and the arrival of the three kings are a "conflation", elements of multiple stories blended together in one. As the academic theologians he interviewed said, neither Gospel supports the combined story and, in fact, the two books of the Bible disagree with each other about the facts.
But the story concluded that the traditional story need not be taken as literal history, although many Christians certainly do. While history and archeology don't prove a literal reading to be right, neither do they prove it wrong.
"The Living Nativity Pageant we produce each year is like a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall or printed in a book," Rev Spiller explained. "We don't look at it and say, 'So that's what Jesus looked like.' We look at it and better focus on the human aspect of the Son of God and the message he taught.
"Some people connect best through a picture of a European-looking Jesus; others through an African or Oriental face. He wouldn't have looked like any of those in real life. It doesn't matter what the picture looks like...it matters that the picture connects the viewer to the message."
And that's the same way the pageant works, added Hardy.
"One of our holy families has Nordic features and red hair. Our kings look more medieval than Middle Eastern and our angels are straight out of the Renaissance. I don't think anyone believes there was a llama in Bethlehem.
"But it all comes together in a package which tells the story we do believe...that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born into this world to save us all, and that his arrival was filled with miracles and symbolism. We keep our portrayal traditional -- familiar -- comfortable, so people can easily connect through it to that core message.
"And from the feedback we get from our audiences, it works."
That connection to the true meaning of Christmas is what draws people every year from all over Texas (and beyond) to the little church in Blanco County.
"If we tried to do a technically accurate depiction, it would look a lot different," Hardy concluded. "But the real problem would be the two-year intermission, waiting for the Wise Men to arrive."
Burnett said since he was already in Texas, he wanted to include a Texas church with a major Living Nativity production. When he looked the subject up on line, ours came up at the top! Word gets around in other ways, too...this year's pageant set a new attendance record of 1,844 people in the bleachers, and standing room only for some shows.
To read or listen to the story and decide what you think of the issue, go to the NPR website at http://www.npr.org/2010/12/23/132288549/shepherds-wise-men-animals-were-they-all-there.