In Bethel, the Christmas festival is always one of the best ways to ring in the season, and this year has turned out to be more special than most after months of virtual gatherings. The audience filled Benson Great Hall, eager to connect with each other and soak up the beauty of each live performance, which offered peace amidst hustle and bustle, routine and personal traditions. Over 200 student musicians shared their gifts with the Bethel community, proclaiming hope for what is to come both this season and for all eternity.
The 65th Christmas Festival celebrated the theme “This Little Babe,” which was taken from a line sung by the Bethel Lucia Chorum ensemble. Throughout the program, Festival Artistic Director Merrin Guice Gill and producer Kevin Shull intentionally called attention to the wonder of the season, highlighting how God personally connects to 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’s Great Hall, carrying candles in multicolored candle holders, they sang “Come, you have long waited for Jesus / Born to free your people,” as if they were also awaiting the arrival. of Jesus between the Old and New Testaments. The program follows different perspectives on the manger, including the shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, and even the animals in the manger. The performance ends with “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” a hymn arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs especially for the 65th Bethel Christmas Festival, as published with a dedication line for the Bethel Choir. “Sweet, Little Jesus Boy” was also arranged by Gibbs, a renowned composer best known for his arrangements of spirituals. Jonathan Veenker, department head and associate professor of music at Bethel, organized the procession and orchestrated the finale.
Along with these special arrangements, the 65th Christmas Festival also honored Bethel’s 150-year history as an institution dedicated to training Christ’s disciples to renew minds, live biblical truth, transform culture and do advancing the gospel for the glory of God. This year’s festival also marked the first in-person performance of President Ross and Annie Allen, who had the honor of praying with the Bethel community throughout the weekend.
While the 65th Christmas Festival gratefully welcomed the audience to Bethel to experience the moving performances, the Department of Music and Drama also continues to adapt to the call for virtual or live-broadcast events. Last year’s Christmas Festival, while different, allowed viewers across the country to watch from the comfort of their own homes. Shull and Kerri Baker, Technical Services Manager at Benson Great Hall, are working together to see how they can deliver both live events and Festival performances recorded or broadcast live in the future.
For now, audiences are reflecting on the beauty of the baby in the crib, a bearer of hope for eternity to come, as revealed in these lines recited during the show.
He was therefore beautiful in heaven and beautiful on earth: beautiful in the mother’s womb and beautiful in the arms of his parents.
He was beautiful in his miracles but just as beautiful under the plagues.
Beautiful as he invited us to life, but also beautiful without shying away from death.
Beautiful to give his life and beautiful to take it back.
Beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the grave and beautiful in heaven.
Listen to this song to deepen your understanding and do not let the weakness of her flesh blind you to the splendor of her beauty.
He is adorable in every way.
– Augustine of Hippo