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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas, 1947 - Los Angeles City Hall

photo credit:

For over forty years during the Christmas season (as well as around Easter), the lights of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles were arranged to form a cross. The practice began in 1937, and continued until the late 1970's, when the threat of lawsuits ended it.

Unlike "secular Europe" where everyone still wishes each other a Merry Christmas, Americans seem to have become so, well, fearful of even the word "Christmas," choosing instead a bland "Happy Holidays" or - even worse - "Happy Holiday" (and what "holiday" would that be?).

Thomas Jefferson's "separation of church and state" (mentioned no where in the the Constitution, but in a letter to a group of Baptist ministers) most certainly does not mean "the separation of religion from public life."

Secular or religious displays of anything are going to offend someone. Tolerance has to go both ways. That's why I continue to appreciate public displays of faith like Hanukkah menorahs, the Nativity Scenes in Santa Monica, and something as simple U.S. Postage Stamps:

As an aside, the U.S. Postal Service issued their first "religious" Christmas stamp in 1965, the first Hanukkah stamp in 1996.

Merry Christmas to all.

© 2010


Santa Monica Christmas Story

For almost sixty years, a dozen churches have sponsored an annual Christmas display along the bluffs in Santa Monica.

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 as well as some old black and white photos.

The displays are along Ocean Avenue between Arizona Avenue and Santa Monica Blvd. Here is each scene, with the respective Scriptural references:

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, having lived 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!

Here's their website if you'd like more information. If you're anywhere near the westside of Los Angeles, it's worth seeing.

"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).

originally published 12/24/08


Merry Christmas from Żywiec

Merry Christmas from Paweł and Łukasz Golec from Żywiec, Poland.

One hundred years ago this past October, my great-grandfather
Josef Golec immigrated from Żywiec. So, of course, I'd like to find out if and how I'm related to the Golec brothers:

This is a traditional Polish Christmas carol. Translated, the words include:

Welcome, our Saviour that we waited for! After long ages you come to our door; With the prophets waiting for you You appear tonight to Show Your holy grace. Show Your holy grace. So thus we have awaited You, Lord, And once you come, we’ll kneel humble, glad and true . . .

Cold winter night Cold winter night, when a voice is torn: Wake up, oh, shepherds, Christ your Lord is born! Thus now time do not waste, To Bethlehem do make haste! To welcome your Lord! To welcome your Lord! In a little manger Baby they had found, Spreading good will and glee all around. As the Lord He was praised, With their voices loudly raised, In unwavering joy. In unwavering joy . . .

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia.

Merry Christmas.

© 2010


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebrating the Incarnation: Back to Bethlehem at Rocky Peak

A little Christmas gem in the 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

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.

It's also an outdoor event - and certain evenings will be canceled if it's raining. Check their website.

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.

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 - weather permitting - 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

originally published 12/14/08

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Nicholas of Myra (270-343), more commonly known as St. Nicholas, was a leader in the early church from the Persecutions of Diocletian through the Council of Nicea. He grew up in what is modern day Turkey and served as Bishop of the city of Myra.

When our kids were very young, we heard about families that celebrated a "St. Nicholas Day" of sorts. The idea is to give kids most (or all) of their Christmas gifts a week or so earlier and try to refocus Christmas on Christ (gee, imagine that), making Christmas centered more on the birth of Jesus and the Incarnation - and less on the "gimme gimme - want want" greed-fest that the holiday seems have to degenerated to.

Historically, Christians in other countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. Our family's celebration has less to do with a church calendar and more about trying to experience Christmas differently.

As our kids have gotten older, we've been able to introduce them to St. Nicholas the man. His story is really incredible: born into a wealthy family, orphaned as a young child, a committed follower of Jesus Christ, a leader in the church when Christianity was still very much illegal, years of imprisonment during the violent persecutions under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, freed after the Edict of Toleration in AD 313, a participant in the Council of Nicea . . . and - of course - generous in his gifts and concern for widows, orphans and the poor.

The life of Nicholas of Myra is being made into a film, with Matthew Mesler (above) playing the role of St. Nicholas, apparently set for a Christmas 2010 release.

So how did an imprisoned Christian bishop of the persecuted church and signer of the Nicean Creed morph into the fat dude with flying reindeer and a sack of toys?

The 1823 poem Twas the Night Before Christmas are arguably the best known verses ever written by an American. According the wikipedia article, "this single poem is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, as well as the tradition of bringing toys to children."

Ads like this one from the good people at Coca Cola helped solidify Americans' image of "jolly old St. Nick" (hey, even Santa gets thirsty, right?). Imagine Mother Teresa in an ad like this - you get the idea.

Speaking of ghosts of Christmases past, I found this pic of my dad with a very ethnic looking St. Nicholas taken when he was a kid in Chicago around 1931. Pretty scary looking Santa: maybe why my dad wasn't smiling. Gotta love the horse, too. It's unbelievable how quickly the image of "Santa" has changed, even here in the USA.

Back to our family's celebration of St. Nicholas Day. Our kids, of course, have really embraced it. Hey, what kid doesn't want to get toys (at least from their parents) a week before Christmas?

But it's also been a chance for us to talk about a man of faith who walked with God during some incredibly challenging and turbulent times, and to learn from and imitate his generosity and concern for others, especially the poor.

One of the best resources we've found on the life of St. Nicholas is author Cheryl Odden's The Story of St. Nicholas: More Than Reindeer and a Red Suit, available here. It's a great way to introduce kids or grandkids to a great man of faith.

Gene Edward Veith wrote a humorous and insightful article for World Magazine a few years back about St. Nicholas and what he half jokingly called the "Santa Slap." Classic article - love it - really worth reading (if you have trouble viewing the entire article on the World site - it's also available here).

Merry Christmas - and Happy St. Nicholas Day.

© 2010


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Meet George Jetson: LAX Theme Building

photo credit: Genaro Molina L.A. Times Nov. 29, 2010

This outstanding photo by Los Angeles Times photographer Genaro Molina really caught my eye. I love the look and feel of the LAX Theme Building, especially at night. Add to that the way Molina framed it with the curves and color of what I assume is a nearby parking structure, and you've got a simply amazing photograph. I'm currently using it as the desktop background on my computer.

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The LAX "Theme Building" re-opened this past July after a massive three year renovation that had it covered with scaffolding.

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The Theme Building houses a "retro-future" restaurant called "Encounter". It's on my growing list of things I'm looking forward to doing, hopefully sometime next year.

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The Theme Building opened in 1961 and is one of Los Angeles' best examples of "googie" architecture (another is "Jack Colker's 76 Gas Station" located at Santa Monica Blvd & Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills), capturing the spirit and optimism of the jet age.

If the Theme Building and Encounter look like something out of Hanna Barbera's The Jetsons (1962) - or Disney's Tomorrowland, that's on purpose. The folks at Hanna Barbera borrowed from the Theme Building's architectural design. Notice the top of the Jetson's apartment building.

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And Encounter, which opened in 1997, was designed by the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering, giving it that fantasy futuristic feel.

The future hasn't turned out exactly the way people imagined it 50 years ago: cars are stuck in gridlock traffic, but we've got cell phones that surpass anything the original Star Trek series could have even imagined.

I'm curious what kind of world my future grandkids will live in 50 or so years from now. It's certainly the desire of my wife and I to equip our kids (currently ages 8 and 11) to be able to engage the future - and to be able to pass on their faith and knowledge of God to their own children, and to their children's children.

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Here's some additional information on the Theme Building.

Hope I look this good when I'm fifty years old (oh wait, I almost am).

© 2010