This week many children are busy preparing for their annual Sunday School Christmas programs.

Their parents, grandparents and pastors are eager to hear them retell the story of the birth of Jesus as they parade through the church dressed up as shepherds, wise men, sheep, donkeys, cows...and of course…..the coveted roles of Mary and Joseph. Cute and often a bit humorous, Christmas programs are a great way to live into God’s amazing story.

Most often the setting for Christmas programs is a stable or cave in the little town of Bethlehem. English Lutheran Church (La Crosse) has put together another phenomenal version of the little village where Jesus was born. The Bethlehem Event includes people of all ages, animals too! If your schedule this weekend (Dec 16-17) allows, I encourage you to go and experience what life in Bethlehem may have been like for people living under Roman occupation, complete with soldiers and tax collectors. The Bethlehem event is free and open to the public from 12-5pm.

The Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke includes the foretelling of Jesus’ birth to Mary in a little village of Nazareth. The Angel Gabriel’s surprising announcement to Mary, an unsuspecting teenage woman engaged to be married, left her afraid and perplexed. And with good reason. How could she ever expect to hear the angel’s greeting that she was the one favored by God to conceive in her womb, a son that she would name Jesus. This took place in the most unlikely of places, the little village of Nazareth, a village of about 200 people at that time.

A month ago I was with a group from our area that visited Nazareth, now a city of 70,000 people in the Galilee region of Israel. There we visited the Church of the Annunciation, one of the most modern churches in the Holy Land, built nearly 50 years ago over the cave that was the traditional site where the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would bear the Messiah. This, the fifth church built over this site, contains beautiful panels of Mary depicted from different cultures around the world. Architecturally it is breathtakingly beautiful! Spiritually it is awe-inspiring.

One person said that quietly meditating on the wonder of Mary at the Church of the Annunciation, was one of the highlights of her trip. For as the Angel Gabriel said, “Nothing is impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37)

Whether it is at a children’s Christmas program, the Bethlehem event at English Lutheran, or in the quiet of your home, may you find time to prepare for Christmas by quietly pondering anew, what the Almighty God can do…...through you!

Merry Christmas!

Rev. Kent D. Johnson is the pastor at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent.

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Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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