The message of Christmas is often overshadowed. It goes unnoticed by the growing number of people who celebrate the holiday for reasons other than for Christ.
More and more businesses and public places avoid displaying any signs of religious affiliation when they decorate.
Some North Carolina Baptists are taking more intentional steps to display nativity scenes as a way to share the true meaning of Christmas.
Neighborhood Nativity Project
Jeff Andler of Jeff Andler Ministries (JAMin) is in his first year of heading up the Neighborhood Nativity Project from his home in Charlotte.
“In response to the anti-Christian sentiment of recent years, it is our effort to rally believers all across America to make a statement of their faith by displaying a nativity scene on their property, rather than only mourn the fact that the world will not,” Andler said.
People can get involved by watching his video on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzXQpag8pAs) or at neighborhoodnativityproject.com. Next, they can display nativity scenes in their front yards or near their apartment doors. As nativity scenes are put up, people can submit their names and pictures to the website, where photos of other submitted displays are posted. Nativity scenes provide powerful images for nonbelieving neighbors to see. They also serve as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas for Christians. “It’s a pretty strong symbol,” Andler said. “It immediately says the birth of Christ.”
To help spread the word about the initiative, people can also “like” the ministry’s Facebook page, facebook.com/neighborhoodnativityproject.
Andler works part-time with the senior adult ministry at Arlington Baptist Church in Charlotte, and he was in music ministry for more than 30 years. Then, he and his wife started JAMin, which is involved in a variety of ministry that includes everything from music and prison outreach to overseas projects with children’s camps, construction, literature distribution and more.
In 2011 Andler began receiving emails about how many businesses, government facilities and schools were removing the word “Christmas” from their decorations and any other connections to the Christian meaning of the season.
“While sharing the disappointment of others, it occurred to me that God never expects the world to honor His name,” Andler said. “In fact, He warned that they would hate Him and us.”
While Andler said he “can’t make the courthouse put up a nativity,” he emphasized that he “can sure put one up” and expressed the need for other believers to display one in their yard or at their apartment.
Wendy’s in Boone, along with other local businesses, took part in Bethlehem & Beyond last year by displaying a nativity scene.
Word is spreading about the nativity project initiative. Andler’s website has received hits from the west coast, the midwest, and even as far away as Eastern Europe and northwest Africa.
“Regardless of what happens this year, we have decided to keep the project going and plan to encourage growing participation in 2013 and beyond,” he said.
Bethlehem & Beyond
Three Forks Baptist Association in Boone, started Bethlehem & Beyond three years ago. Bethlehem & Beyond involves many Christmas projects including nativity tours and a nativity scene art contest. Last year was the association’s first art contest that was open to all ages. Participants submit their art to be displayed in Boone Mall Dec. 6-21. Winners in each age bracket receive a gift card to a local art store in Boone.
“We’ve been very pleased with the cooperation from the director at the mall,” said Donna Nealy, director for Bethlehem & Beyond and wife of Barry Nealy, director of missions for the association.
“Through the conversations we had, Samaritans Purse was able to put a big tree up and advertise for Operation Christmas Child,” she said.
Nealy was able to arrange caroling at the mall this year as well. Every Friday (Dec. 7, 14, 21) choirs and ensembles will perform from 6-8 p.m.
This is also Three Forks Association’s third year of holding nativity tours as part of Bethlehem & Beyond. Dec. 14 through 16, nativity sets will be displayed in the association’s conference room. These sets are mostly loaned to the association for the ministry project.
“We are trying to have as many international sets as we can,” said Nealy.
Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer selling handmade products from artisans in 38 countries, is also contributing international nativity sets this year for the tour.
Bethlehem & Beyond encouraged local businesses and groups to include nativities as part of their decorations in the Boone Christmas parade Dec. 1. Bethlehem Bonanza was held Dec. 8 at Greenway Baptist Church in Boone. The bonanza is an event for families to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with crafts, face painting, prizes and more.
Nealy shared stories from previous years of the tour and how it has brought opportunities to pray for and share the love of Christ with people that the association never would have met otherwise.
All Bethlehem & Beyond events are free. Visit BethlehemAndBeyond.com.