Nativity shows different perspective

The Claremont United Methodist Church has developed a reputation for its thought-provoking nativity scenes and this year’s installation is no different.

The nativity, designed by artist John Zachary and located on Foothill Boulevard, is given as a Christmas gift each year in the hope “that we might all have eyes to see and ears to hear.”

As with his previous displays, Mr. Zachary draws attention to those who have been treated as outcasts and oppressed in society, such as minorities and children born to impoverished families.

The 2014 nativity scene depicts the Virgin Mary as a homeless woman sitting on a bus stop bench. Shrouded in a sleeping bag for warmth, mother Mary cradles her newborn baby Jesus, who is swaddled in burlap, secured by rope. To the left of the bus stop sits two newspaper stands with papers bearing the headline, “Homeless Woman Arrested For Giving Birth In Bus Shelter.” To the right, a shopping cart is filled with the family’s precious belongings.

And beside mother and child rests a plaque that reads, “What If Jesus Were Born Today?”

Church congregants and Pilgrim Place residents Dorothy Hartzler, Cathy Thompson and Elizabeth Clarke stopped by on Wednesday morning following their Bible class to get an up-close look at Mr. Zachary’s artistry.

“His depiction is a wonderful display,” said Ms. Hartzler. “The Bethlehem Times with the newspaper headline, really makes you think.”

For the past eight years, Mr. Zachary has shared his vision with Claremont. While most embrace the opportunity to be a part of the conversation, others have not been so welcoming.

In 2013, the artist incorporated an unexpected character into his scene of the holy family gathered in the manger—Trayvon Martin. The nativity garnered national attention. In 2012, Mary and Joseph were placed outside a chainlink fence with baby Jesus nowhere in sight until Christmas Eve, when the couple was moved and placed inside the fenced-off space with the gate left open.

In 2011, a display depicting both a heterosexual and a gay couple side-by-side was vandalized. Following a Christmas Eve service, the same-sex figures were found toppled over while the heterosexual couple was untouched. The display’s Christmas tree was stolen and light bulbs were broken, with an estimated $3,000 in damage.

This year’s nativity remains intact. Unfortunately, so does a high level of homelessness. According to Homeless, a staggering 2.5 million children are homeless each year.

—Angela Bailey


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