|Proclaiming Christ at Christmas|
|Tuesday, December 6, 2011|
“This time of year around here is go, go, go and do, do, do,” said Lebanon’s Brother Kenneth Bowen, a man who promotes Christ’s birth with a myriad of Christmas lights in his yard display that he has christened Christmasland.
This past December he counted 2,500 vehicles that circled his driveway as wide-eyed passengers took in the hundreds of attractions, most of them accented with lights of red, white, blue and green. The messages in the lights spell out such greetings as “Happy Birthday Jesus,” “Merry Christmas” and “Peace on Earth.”
“We started when my oldest grand boy, Adam, was born. We started off with just a few pieces, and now we’ve got 800 of them, the most we’ve ever had,” said Bowen, 68, pastor of Unity Church in Lebanon.
“We started with a Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and a reindeer, and that’s been 16 years ago,” said his wife Linda. “We really enjoy it because so many people come through. A lot of people send us cards in the summer thanking us for having it open.”
As for the variety of lights and decorations, she said the Nativity scenes are her favorite. This year their yard holds eight different settings of the Christ child in the manger.
Once darkness descends, a steady stream of cars, pickup trucks and SUVs enter the Bowen driveway on Trousdale Ferry Pike about a mile past Wharton’s Store. Christmas music reverberates across the grounds as the vehicles slowly cruise the 900-foot semicircle, and folks gaze through rolled-downed windows at the illuminated sights.
The lights in the front yard adhere to a religious theme, while the backyard pieces tend to be along traditional Christmas themes. Secular Christmas characters fill the carport and back yard including snowmen, reindeer, Santas, penguins, polar bears, rocking horses and wooden soldiers.
Taking in the spectacle this evening is Wendy Miller of Lebanon and her four children, Shelly, Haley, Izzy and Jamin. “My kids love it every year. It’s very bright,” said Miller, who has returned eight seasons. “It grows bigger and bigger every year.”
“I love that it has a lot to do with Christ. It’s just beautiful,” Shelly, 14, said. She is a freshman at Lebanon High School.
“That’s basically what we do here: is keep Christ in Christmas. When God calls, you answer, and I’ve tried to do that. Somewhere in this God called me to keep his birthday alive,” Bowen said.
“I found out when you go to the source, Jesus Christ, he will bless you and that you will prosper. I think that’s the biggest problem, we don’t go to the source enough.”
Raised in the Beckwith community, Bowen recalled, “My dad died when I was 5. We didn’t have much, but Christmas always has been one of my favorite times of year.”
Bowen and his wife began Unity Church in Lebanon in December 1991. He worked for 14 years at Tridon in Smyrna and for the past 11 years has been a crossing guard for the city of Lebanon. He can be seen school day mornings and afternoons keeping traffic moving slowly and safely at the intersection of Coles Ferry Pike and North Castle Heights.
The minister said he will keep Christmasland going as long as “the Lord lets me and I keep my health.
“We don’t charge here. We’ve got great sponsors here in Lebanon. If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t do it. They probably will pay all the electric bills, and the donations go back in the yard. There’s no money made here,” said Christmasland’s decorator.
“We get lots of donated pieces. A lady came last year and gave me 18 to 20 pieces. People have bent over backwards to help us. We can’t out give God,” he said.
Bowen’s reward for his efforts?
“Just to see the smiles on peoples’ faces and kids’ faces,” he answered. “There was one little kid sitting on his dad’s lap, and he looked up to me and said, ‘Sir, your house is just awesome.’”
Bowen begins decorating his yard at the end of September. His grandsons, Adam, 16, and Blake, 7, pitch in to help as do volunteers from the church.
Most guests take about 5 minutes to cruise around Christmasland, and some will make the circuit twice. Some passengers will wave through their car windows as they pass the well-lit sunroom where the Bowens sit at night, and the couple responds with waves of their own.
On a recent evening, Lani and Lee Wilson from Perryville, Mo., drive into Christmasland with their two young children.
“This is wonderful,” Lee said. “Absolutely lovely,” Lani added.
“It’s nice that the pastor and his wife put a lot of hard work and effort into keeping the spirit of Christmas, that’s for sure,” Lee said.
“And do we love Christmas,” said his wife from the Show-Me State. “This is our kind of place.”
“I want people to have a merry Christmas and know about Christ, the greatest gift we ever had,” Bowen said. “It all goes back to that baby in the manger. That’s where love started.”
by Ken Beck