Claremont United Methodist Church has a tradition of offering the community a provocative gift during advent—a gift that won’t allow us to leave Jesus as a sweet baby in a manger that we can feel good about without changing the way we live.
Our first creche showed Jesus and his family as homeless and folks were deeply moved—they left food and money and school classes came to see it. In following years, we had Jesus and his family as immigrants at the wall, the holy family in a war zone with Mary in a burka, a Black Mary and baby Jesus in a prison cell … Always, we include statements from the Bible, from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church and reflections about what the coming of Jesus into our world has to do with these issues that face our nation and world.
In 2011, we knew that the message we were called to share was that Jesus broke boundaries and his love was available to ALL of God’s children. Because our denomination continues to include judgmental and exclusive language toward GLBTQ persons, and because CUMC has been a Reconciling Congregation for 20 years, our nativity sought [visually and through the statements we posted] to indicate that the coming of Jesus means that ALL are welcome. Here is the message we wanted to proclaim:
This expression of inclusive love was vandalized on Christmas eve and we held a candlelight vigil the following week. We prayed for those who were so threatened that they vandalized our message of love for all and, again, sought to invite all to come to the manger and be empowered to embody the love of Jesus which calls us to “to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
So it is, that in 2013, the message that cried out to John Zachary—set designer and artistic director in LA who is a member of our congregation—and the Creative Peace-Making Committee is that violence never is the answer. In the days when the world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, that message should be loud and clear! Gun violence in our nation is killing our children—sons and daughters—everyday! We believe, as followers of the babe at Bethlehem that assault weapons and huge magazines of bullets have no place in the hands of civilians. So long as we allow persons with serious anger issues and persons who are mentally unstable or ill to have these weapons, the killing will go on unchecked! This is not the way of peace that Jesus Christ calls us to walk.
This year’s Nativity at Claremont United Methodist Church depicts Trayvon Martin, bleeding to death as he rests on the manger, to call us all to find ways toward PEACE and away from VIOLENCE!
May the love of God, and the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the leading of God’s Holy Spirit lead us all toward paths of compassion, justice and peace.