Monday, December 08, 2008

full of grace

Several Baptist churches around the country present Living Christmas Trees but few, if any, do so in as spectacular a fashion as the Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville. Their presentation outgrew their sanctuary and then the Tennessee Theatre years ago. Five performances of the Knoxville Living Christmas Tree filled Thompson-Boling Arena this weekend.

My wife and I had never seen the LCT, as those in the know call it. It is actually a gigantic choir riser in the shape of a Christmas tree. A segment on the noon news one day last week got me interested in going although our previous commitments didn't make it easy. We already had plans for Saturday. Tonight, my wife and I went to Mass at our own church for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation and the national feast of the USA. It comes nine months before the celebration of Mary's birth. There was only one performance that fit our schedule, Sunday at 3:00 p.m. I went to the website to request a pair of free tickets only to find out that they were "sold out." I gave up my plans to attend and started thinking about going to the Knoxville Nativity Pageant next week instead.

After the Julianne Hough concert on Friday night, my wife and I went to Rita's Ice to share a dessert. As we paid for our Blendini, I saw tickets to the Living Christmas Tree on the counter. There were a few tickets for each of Sunday's two performances. Nancy, the store owner, told me that she had gotten the tickets through her church and that they were free for the taking. I grabbed a pair for the matinee. Call it fate, karma or good luck.

We got there about 45 minutes early. I dropped off Jere at the door and went to park the car. As I got out of my car, I realized that I had parked next to Matt Hinkin. He said that it had been a couple of years since he last saw the LCT. I found my wife in section 105 and sat down. I had brought my copy of "Thank God for Evolution" to read while waiting for the show to start. As the singers began to fill in the 16 levels of the tree, I noticed that their choir robes were just drapes that only covered their shoulders and upper bodies.

I went to the Living Christmas Tree expecting a musical performance. I didn't know it would also include a Nativity pageant, a Passion play, a sermon and a passing of the collection plate. The show was so entertaining that even I was moved to toss in a couple of bucks. In addition to all the other elements, there was a contemporary Christmas story, reminiscent of a schmaltzy TV movie. Hollywood producer Garrett returns to his hometown to expose what he thinks is the hypocrisy of their Christmas celebration. He has a change of heart after his assistant prays for him.

The best parts of the event were the singing and the sermon by guest speaker Scott Dawson. I could have done with slightly shorter talking scenes and more songs during the drama portion. However the show did have first class production values. In a way, it was like a slice of Pigeon Forge right here in Knoxville. In fact, the comic relief characters, Bobby Earl and Skeeter, were a lot like some I saw at the Dixie Stampede last year.

Before the performance, Shannon Leigh from Love 89 welcomed the crowd. She said that they were playing only Christmas music this month. On the way home, I switched back and forth between Love 89 and B97.5. The religious station beat the commercial station on each song I heard. The tunes that gave them the win were "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra and "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K while the B was playing "Do They Know It's Christmas" yet again. You can compare the two station's playlists yourself here and here.

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Anonymous Lori Ingram said...

Frank, We attended Sunday nights performance and although I had seen it two years ago (different secular story) but same birth, witness, crucifixion and resurrection, I was still moved to tears when Jesus appears with his flowing right robes and takes his throne. Wow, really put me the reason for the season. Love the blog, keep up the good work. Lori Ingram


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