The 65th Festival of Christmas Illuminates the Baby in the Manger

Celebrating Bethel’s 150-year history, this year’s Festival of Christmas offered sweet moments to rest in a season of busyness and reflect on the hope of eternity to come.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

December 08, 2021 | 6 p.m.

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At Bethel, Festival of Christmas is always one of the best ways to ring in the season, and this year proved more special than most after months of virtual gatherings. Audiences filled Benson Great Hall, eager to connect with one another and soak in the beauty of each live performance—which offered peace in the midst of busyness, routine, and personal traditions. More than 200 student musicians shared their gifts with the Bethel community, proclaiming hope for what’s to come both in this season and for eternity. 

The 65th Festival of Christmas celebrated the theme “This Little Babe,” which was taken from a line sung by the Bethel ensemble Lucia Chorum. Throughout the program, Festival artistic director Merrin Guice Gill and producer Kevin Shull intentionally drew attention to the wonder of the season, highlighting how God personally connects with creation. Shull explains that they print the program every year so audience members can meditate on the lyrics beyond the live performance.

As the Festival Choir entered Benson Great Hall, carrying candles in multicolor holders, they sang, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus / Born to set Thy people free,” as if they too were waiting for Jesus’ arrival in between Old and New Testament. The program follows different perspectives at the Nativity scene, including the shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, and even the animals in the manger. The performance concludes with “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” a hymn arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs specially for Bethel’s 65th Festival of Christmas, as it was published with a line of dedication for the Bethel Choir. “Sweet, Little Jesus Boy” was also arranged by Gibbs, a renowned composer known best for his arrangements of spirituals. Bethel’s own Jonathan Veenker, department chair and associate professor of music, arranged the processional and orchestrated the finale. 

Along with these special arrangements, the 65th Festival of Christmas also honored Bethel’s 150-year history as an institution dedicated to training Christ-followers to renew minds, live out biblical truth, transform culture, and advance the gospel for the glory of God. This year’s Festival also marked the first in-person performance for President Ross and Annie Allen, who were honored to worship with the Bethel community throughout the weekend.

While the 65th Festival of Christmas gratefully welcomed audiences back to Bethel to experience the moving performances, the Department of Music and Theatre continues to adapt to the call for virtual or live-streamed events as well. Last year’s Festival of Christmas, while different, did provide a chance for viewers all over the country to watch from the comfort of their own homes. Shull and Kerri Baker, manager of Benson Great Hall technical services, are working together to see how they can offer both live events and either recorded or live-streamed Festival performances in the future.

For now, audiences reflect on the beauty of the baby in the manger, bringing hope for eternity to come, as revealed by these lines recited during the program.

He was beautiful in heaven, then, and beautiful on earth: beautiful in the womb, and beautiful in His parents’ arms. 

He was beautiful in His miracles but just as beautiful under the scourges.

Beautiful as He invited us to life, but beautiful too in not shrinking from death. 

Beautiful in laying down His life and beautiful in taking it up again.

Beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, and beautiful in heaven. 

Listen to this song to further your understanding, and do not allow the weakness of His flesh to blind you to the splendor of His beauty.

He is lovely in all respects.

–Augustine of Hippo

Glorifying God and Serving Others Through Music

After all the private lessons, long hours in practice rooms, and dress rehearsals, students in the Bethel’s Music and Theatre program leave ready for a lifetime of sharing their gifts. We’re all about taking our faith in Christ and integrating it into everything we learn, into everything we do, so we can accomplish incredible things—in our careers, in our communities, and in our world.

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