Christmas Spectacular JOUR 356 Live Event
The Virginia Christmas Spectacular with its “Living Christmas Tree” is produced by Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) and serves as an annual Christmas tradition for TRBC attendees and local Lynchburg residents alike every holiday season.
Ever since 1970, TRBC has produced “a live Broadway-style musical,” as its website describes it, which features a combination of secular Christmas music “along with the best loved songs and carols of the season” as well as a Nativity scene and Gospel message. Each year the Christmas Spectacular has a different theme and story, making each year unique and engaging for audience members who return for the Christmas musical every year.
However, audience members can count on some constants each year, such as an array of Christmas music, TRBC’s Pastor Jonathan Falwell presenting a gospel message, and the cast and choir singing sections of Handel’s “Messiah” and leading the audience in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the end of the performance.
“This Christmas, Pastor Jonathan Falwell, Charles Billingsley and the cast, choir and orchestra of The Thomas Road Virginia Christmas Spectacular invite you to experience the sights and sounds of Christmas in New York City,” read the program, which was formatted as a newspaper dating December 1940.
Called “Jingle in the City,” the plot centered around a group of orphans living in New York City during World War II who take refuge in the attic of a Christian couple who provide food and shelter for them and teach them about Jesus.
While the performance opened on December 1 and runs through December 4, with ticket prices ranging from $5 to $14, Liberty University students were allowed to see the dress rehearsal on November 30 for free when they showed their valid Flames Pass.
“LU students started attending their very first ‘Living Christmas Tree’ in 1971. The TRBC Christmas Program was just a year old at that point,” said Iain Lyttle, the Special Events Coordinator at TRBC.
Beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening, doors opened for students at 6 p.m. The performance lasted a little over two hours.
“Around 700 students attended the show, in addition (. . .) almost 3000 friends & family of cast (many of which are LU students/staff) also attended,” Lyttle commented.
One student who attended the performance was Madison Carroll, a junior psychology major who grew up in the Lynchburg area and has witnessed every Christmas Spectacular in her lifetime.
“This year’s spectacular was better than some years in the past,” Carroll suggested. “The story felt like one that (was) more relatable for people in terms of real life situations and feelings/emotions.”
While on stage after the performance, Pastor Falwell echoed Carroll’s comment, saying that he believed this year’s musical was the best he had seen.
Besides solely providing a Christmas entertainment option for families, the Virginia Christmas Spectacular also strives to remind viewers of the “Reason for the Season” or to introduce those who have never heard of Jesus to the Gospel for the first time.
“As always, our entire production is designed and built around the world’s most important story — the one told for centuries. It is the story of how the God of all creation in an amazing act of love for all mankind, sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to be born one silent, holy night into a lowly stable. This same Jesus lived and walked on this earth for 33 years. This same Jesus, through His death on the cross and resurrection three days later, became the sacrifice that would provide salvation for all who would believe in Him,” the program stated.
Following the nativity presentation at the end of the performance, Pastor Falwell took the stage to preach a brief salvation message and invited anyone who had never received Christ to do so.
“My favorite part of the Spectacular is the Nativity story,” Carroll stated, adding that she particularly loved the song “Immanuel” that was sung during the Nativity scene this year. “The way in which the Nativity story is told creates such a picture of the humbleness of Christ and how He wanted to relate to us in every way He possibly could.”
As Christmas is a time for giving, TRBC’s Christmas Spectacular seeks to not solely give the gospel to those in the Lynchburg community, but to those around the world as well.
Charles Billingsley, the show’s executive producer who also performed in the musical, spoke during the intermission about how they would take up an offering after the performance to help benefit Hope of Life in Guatemala.
“For five years, we have been investing in the transformation of this little village (Pueblo del Rio) located just 30 minutes from the Jerry Falwell Training Center at the Hope of Life campus,” the program informed readers. The program also mentions that the funds raised go to building 10 cinderblock homes in the village and “provid(ing) gift baskets for each family in the village. Each basket will include nutrient-rich foods (rice, beans, soups, and corn) and a toy for each child.”
Christmas is the season of giving, and audience members left TRBC’s sanctuary with the opportunity to give and change the lives of people thousands away just as the Christmas Spectacular’s cast gave of their talents, hoping to impact the lives of those who saw the show.