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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from Santa Monica

Over a dozen churches in Santa Monica sponsor an annual Christmas display in Palisades Park.

Fourteen life size displays dramatize the nativity story as found in the gospels, specifically the first two chapters of Matthew, and the first two chapters of Luke.

The displays have been a part of the Santa Monica landscape since 1953.

I found this article, which has some interesting historical background on the displays .... and some old black and white photos:

The displays are along Ocean Avenue between Arizona Avenue and Santa Monica Blvd. Here's a few photos from earlier in this week:

The Annunciation
"Hail thou that are highly favored." (Luke 1:28)

Joseph's Dream

"The angel appeared unto him in a dreaming saying Joseph the son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife." (Matthew 1:20)

The Visitation

"Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of they womb." (Luke 1:42)

Caesar's Decree

"And Ceasar Augustus decreed that all the world should be taxed."
(Luke 2:1)

Rest on the Road

"And Joseph went also up from Galilee unto Bethlehem to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife." (Luke 2:4-5)

No Room at the Inn
"There was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)

The Nativity

"And she laid him in a manger." (Luke 2:7)

Peace on Earth
"And there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night and the angel of the Lord came unto them." (Luke 2:8,9)

Herod's Court
"When Herod the king heard these things he was greatly troubled." (Matthew 2:3)

Three Wise Men
"Behold there came three wise men from the east." (Matthew 2:1)

Presentation in the Temple
"They present him to the Lord." (Luke 2:22)

Joseph's Warning

"Behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream." Matthew 2:13

Flight to Egypt

"And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and deported into Egypt." (Matthew 2:14)

Return to Nazareth
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth." (Matthew 2:23)

So many of us appreciate the time, effort, and funding to make this happen. At a time of increasingly secular displays of Christmas, an elaborate nativity display like this is a welcome relief from Frosty, Rudolf and dogs singing Jingle Bells.

The displays - unfortunately - are somewhat dated. Apparently, these same displays drew huge crowds in the late 1950's and early 1960's. They received local television coverage and reserve police officers were needed to control traffic.

The displays still draw visitors, although much fewer than in the past. It would be easy to dismiss this all on the secularization of Christmas, and that's part of it, but honestly the displays simply don't capture the imagination the same way they did 50+ years ago.

I wonder what it might take to renew interest.

Perhaps a better question to ask is "if a dozen churches in Santa Monica decided to begin hosting an elaborate public nativity display today - what would it look like?"

As stated in an earlier entry, the Church at Rocky Peak draws 18,000 people over six night for it's 'Back to Bethlehem" event, and Journey of Faith church in Manhattan Beach draws huge crowds for a similar event.

Of course, living in the area, I know that Santa Monica is a very different community than Chatsworth or Manhattan Beach and I appreciate having anything on the westside of Los Angeles that publically speaks of Christ and the Incarnation.

I also appreciate the challenge of churches from very diverse beliefs working on this together.

Rather than simply throwing in the towel and writting off any sort of public display of faith, churches were willing to work together. This included evangelical churches like Calvary Chapel Metro, Lighthouse (Assemblies of God), and Trinity Baptist, denominational churches like the United Methodist, Pilgrim Lutheran, and the First Presbyterian Churches, St. Monica and St. Anne Roman Catholic Chuches, and (certainly what would fall outside of historic Christian theology) the Mormon Church.

Despite the fact that these churches are all over the map theologically, I appreciate seeing the birth of Christ - the Christmas story - publically displayed to Santa Monica and the greater westside community.

On behalf of my family - thank you!

"Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas from Compton

This past Saturday morning we had the opportunity to spend a few hours helping out at the Salvation Army in Compton.

The Salvation Army has an excellent long-term presence in the community ... committed to meeting spiritual and physical needs of literally thousands of individuals and families in the immediate area. (Looks like the recent wind and rain did some work to their sign out front.)

Saturday was the big Christmas outreach, providing food and Christmas presents to several hundred needy families.

Captains Martin and Tory Ross provide leadership to the ministry. Here Tory is sharing a few words (being translated into Spanish) beforehand about some of the resources the Compton Salvation Army offers the community.

Martin - who who is very conversational in Spanish - decided to have his Christmas message translated as well. Compton is a community in transition, with a huge, growing Latino community.

The facility was packed!

Volunteers from other churches came out to help staff the event. A group came down from a Micronesian Church in Pasadena. Very cool.

This little girl is playing the part of Santa Claus for her family!

Volunteers helping families carry Christmas gifts and food boxes out.

We've helped out here before, but this year we thought about getting involved in something closer to home. Someone reminded us that social-service organizations on the westside of Los Angeles generally are better resourced that those in South Los Angeles. Make sense, they're simply around foundations, businesses, organization, and individuals that are better able to give. So, at the invitation of those in Compton, we once again drove on down to see how we could help.

A highlight for us was the opportunity to bring our kids. Living in Los Angeles we're exposed to extremes of both wealth and poverty. We appreciate the chance for them to see and serve alongside the Salvation Army for a couple of hours. My son (9) played the role of a snowman, greeting kids and parents at the door. He was a real trooper - that suit got pretty hot pretty quick. This is the third year we've tried some sort of Christmas service project, and it only gets easier as our kids get older.

Here's the link for the Salvation Army Compton's website: There are opportunities to get involved, or to invest financially in the the work.

A huge thank you - and Merry Christmas - to Captains Martin and Tory Ross and their team, and for the ongoing impact they're making here in Los Angeles.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merry Christmas from Chatsworth

A little Christmas gem in northwest corner of Los Angeles is the "Back to Bethlehem" event. It's held every year on the two weekends before Christmas in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley, at the Church at Rocky Peak

This is definitely worth seeing - and experiencing!

Click on this image for a larger (and more readable) view of the flyer.

The church's web site describes it as "more than a nativity scene ... not a play". That is an understatement.

It's a very impressive re-enactment of what life might have been like in Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph would have experienced it, entirely staffed by volunteers.

And - admission is free.

The wait to get in is very minimal. While Los Angeles doesn't get snow, it can get chilly, especially at night. If you plan on attending, be sure and bring warm clothes, hats and gloves.

Hundreds of volunteers do an amazing job bringing this event to life.

There was "no room at the inn" ... but a donkey outside of the simple stable nearby gave a hint of what might be inside.

Waiting to visit Mary and Joseph, and their newborn son.

This is a fantastic event for families to help explain the Christmas story to their children.

Mary and Joseph inside the stable, sharing the story of the first Christmas with the thousands of visitors every night. Each year this event attracts 18,000 people over six separate nights.

Outside the stable, sheep and goats. A reminder of the environment Jesus was born into. A volunteer lets kids touch a goat.

At the edge of Bethlehem is the rabbi school. Children and adults gather around to hear the village rabbi share the prophecies about Messiah from Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

Every visitor receives free shekels at the entrance. Spices were just one of the many items you could buy.

The Roman soldiers walking around were a reminder that Bethlehem in the first century was a conquered, occupied territory (I have no idea how these guys - again, all volunteers - stayed warm in togas and sandals.)

Pomegranates. This vendor was smart and was prepared for a chilly evening.

Warm bread: another popular item.

The shops and stalls were in a circle around a large field that is part of the church's property. The entire event is outdoors.

Our kids loved the freedom of being able to go from booth to booth, running around buying little things, having the small samples of food. It really helped bring the Bible to life: Jesus was born in a real place at a real time.

While the lights of the San Fernando Valley are visible in the distance, the church is located in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains, adding to the authenticity of the event.

A shepherd recounting his experience of the angelic visitation announcing Jesus' birth. What was impressive was that this particular volunteer playing the role of a shepherd was also bi-lingual.

It was neat seeing the diversity of visitors that night, as well as many of the volunteers. A reminder that the gospel is for "all the people."

At the edge of Bethlehem, a group of Magi were encamped, looking for "Him was was born King of the Jews."

This map gives an idea of the many things to see and do. The night we went, the event seemed well attended, but never felt overly crowded. Definitely something we'd like to see and do again.

On behalf of our family and the thousands of kids and adults who experience this every year, a huge THANK YOU to the Church at Rocky Peak and the hundreds of volunteers that make this outreach to the community happen.

Journey of Faith Church in Manhattan Beach has a similar (although slightly smaller) event.

While the concept of a "walk through Bethlehem" is not unique to Los Angeles, it is the largest American city where an event like this can be held entirely outdoors. Hard to image this in a place like Chicago or New York. Come to think of it, our climate (Mediterranean) is also the most similar to what Jesus and those around him would have experienced.

In what can unfortunately been a very busy and stressful time of the year, this final photo sums up both this event, and Christmas itself:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 10-12

Friday, November 21, 2008

Our Beaches Best Kept Secret

One of the best known features of Los Angeles is the beach.

But one of the best kept secrets of our beaches are the tidepools.

I found this great on-line tide chart.

Here's a few photos from some of the local tide pools, taken in January 2007, almost two years ago. We are very blessed to live in a city with the ocean at our doorstep - that we can enjoy year round.

If you really want to enjoy tide pools, you'll want to go not only at low tide, but the lowest of the low tides. In the next couple of months (Jan & Feb 2009), I'd recommend:

Saturday January 10th (low tide at 3:09pm)
Sunday January 11th (low tide at 3:05pm)
Saturday February 7 (low tide at 2:11pm)
Sunday February 8 (low tide at 2:49pm)

Remember the saying "take only memories, leave on footprints?" With tide pools, in many cases you don't even want to leave even footprints. Better would be to "take only pictures, and be extra careful where you step." And, please please don't take any "souvenirs."

"Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea - the LORD on high is mighty." Psalm 93:4