Downtown block in Burnet turning into Main Street Bethlehem

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

BURNET — At the time of Jesus’ birth, hundreds, if not thousands, of people took a pilgrimage to the town of Bethlehem for the required census. Now, about 2,000 years later, throngs of people are continuing a similar pilgrimage — but this time to a Bethlehem nestled in the heart of Burnet.

First Baptist Church of Burnet’s Main Street Bethlehem turns a block of downtown across from the church into the birth place of Jesus for the first two weekends of December. And, despite the years of holding the event, the popularity hasn’t waned a bit — even growing.

“I think it’s remained so strong because it reminds us what this season is really about,” said Bettie Taber of First Baptist Church of Burnet. “It’s also something very real, that you can see. Especially for children, they can get to experience this so important event in a way they really can’t by just hearing about it.”

Main Street Bethlehem isn’t just a few structures set up for a couple nights in December while volunteers lead a half-dozen sheep through the streets. The church built a permanent recreation of old town Bethlehem. Throughout the year, volunteers work on the project to make sure it’s ready for the thousands of visitors who will make their way through the town Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 13-15. It’s open 6-9 p.m. each night, weather permitting. The church is located at 218 E. Jackson St.

Describing it as a “re-creation” might not give an accurate picture of what happens when visitors walk through Main Street Bethlehem.

“It’s not just people standing around as visitors walk through,” Taber explained. “The (costumed) volunteers are acting out what it was like that night.”

So if visitors ask a Roman centurion a question and expect a Burnet resident to respond, they’ll be a bit confused. The actor will respond as a Roman centurion would those 2,000 years ago. The same with the shopkeepers, Bethlehem residents and craftspeople. Which is one of the reasons that sets this living nativity scene apart from many others. Visitors don’t just see it, they experience the night of Jesus’ birth.

“I think what makes it so meaningful is people become a part of the production,” Taber said. “They begin to look for this new baby with the others. It means more to (visitors) in some ways because they’re there looking for Jesus.”

And as visitors make their way to the stable where Mary and Joseph kneel by that manager, something happens. Something unexpected and unplanned, even by the organizers. The noise and din from the streets and shops of Bethlehem just a few feet away fades, replaced by a quiet and calm.

“We don’t do that,” Taber said of the peacefulness that settles around the manger scene. “It just happens. It gives you time to reflect. We’re such a blessed people to think God sent his son to us.”

Last year, about 28,000 visitors streamed through Main Street Bethlehem, many for the first time. Others, well, they’ve become regulars on the pilgrimage. Taber said there are many families who make the trip from all over every year to experience the wonder of Jesus’ birth.

As people leave, volunteers will be waiting with hot cocoa, coffees and cookies. Like the admission, it’s free.

“This is our gift to everybody,” Taber said.

The church also sets up a ministry tent where people can visit with church members and staff.

“People have given their lives to God after going through (Main Street Bethlehem),” Taber said. “It’s powerful.”

Call (512) 756-4481 or go to www.fbcburnet.org for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com