Colette M. Jenkins

The Rev. James Roma loves the sights and sounds of the Christmas season — the lights, the decorations, the songs and even Santa Claus.

But before getting enmeshed in the holiday season, he wants people to pause and ponder the reason for celebrating Christmas.

“Our goal is to help people connect the cross to the cradle. The birth of Jesus is the dawn — what a glorious coming,” Roma said. “But the birth doesn’t really change anything if he doesn’t go to the cross. To fully understand the birth of Jesus, we must recognize the purpose of his birth: The purpose of his birth was his death on the cross for our redemption.”

Roma and his congregation at Wintergreen Ledges Church of God are using a walk-through, live Nativity program — A Night in Bethlehem — to present the Gospel in the context of the Christmas story. The 30-minute, indoor and outdoor experience will be offered 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday (the first day of Advent) and again Dec. 8 at the church, 1889 Vernon Odom Blvd., Akron.

The church has been transformed to give people the feeling they are walking through Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. The tour includes a census area, a marketplace and a stable where the baby Jesus can be found.

Along the walk, shepherds will guide the tourists. They will encounter census takers, Roman soldiers, beggars, tax collectors and Mary as she receives the announcement from Gabriel that she is going to have a baby. The marketplace will include six shops, and each shop owner will share part of the Christmas story.

The innkeeper will direct tourists outside, where they will find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a stable and hear the reason for the birth. After the stop at the stable, tourists will visit a corral, where they can see and pet live animals. The last stop will be inside the church for refreshments and a gift bag, which will include a biblical account of Jesus’ birth.

A Night in Bethlehem is being presented at the church for the fifth time in the past six years. The congregation took a break last year to discern whether the effort, which costs about $5,000, including billboards, should be continued.

Earlier this year, the congregation of about 150 parishioners decided to take on the project again. Michele Yocum, who is part of the steering committee, said more than 75 percent of the congregation has stepped up to volunteer and provide the finances and in-kind services to make A Night in Bethlehem possible.

“It has been a tremendous amount of work to pull this together, but it has also served to bring us closer together as a church family. The story of Jesus is the greatest story ever told, and we know that it is important to share that story with everyone,” Yocum said. “Our hope is that this will help people see that God had a plan and that it will give them a fresh or new meaning of why we celebrate Christmas and what this season is all about.”

The last time A Night in Bethlehem was presented, in 2011 at Wintergreen Ledges, it attracted more than 1,000 people.

Admission is free.

More information about the church can be found at www.wintergreenledges.org or by calling 330-753-3027.

“We are not a huge congregation, but our primary goal is to lift up Christ and see his kingdom grow,” Roma said. “We’re not trying to put people in the pews. We want to see people get to heaven.”

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.