Nativity scenes have a few standard elements: a manger, swaddling clothes, happy parents, sheep, maybe the Three Wise Men. They don't generally include Trayvon Martin.
But there he is, wearing a hoodie, a stream of blood pouring from his chest onto the straw-covered floor of the scene outside Claremont United Methodist Church, the holy family around him.
There is danger in the manger.
For the seventh straight Christmas, the church at 211 W. Foothill Blvd. has turned its Nativity display into a piece of art that comments on our times.
John Zachary, the artist, told me the acquittal in July of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot the 17-year-old African-American in 2012, struck him as a worthy subject for Christmas comment.
For one thing, the backdrop to the Christmas story is the slaughter by King Herod of all infants in Bethlehem, a barbarous attempt to kill the Messiah.
Rather than tidings of comfort and joy, that time of year would have seen "other parents in agony because their children had just been killed," a plaque explains.
In searching for photos of Trayvon, Zachary said one of the teenager lying dead on the pavement particularly tore at him.
"What if Jesus was lying there bleeding to death? I was kind of thinking of that," Zachary said.
The scene is titled "A Child is Born, a Son is Given," the wording outlined in red formed from a pool of blood at Trayvon's feet. I suggested to Zachary that he might be melding Christ's birth and Crucifixion in one tableau, Easter being the time a son was given.
"Easter and Christmas should be tied together. It's all the same story," Zachary said.
Of course, via his substitution, we might ask the question, Did Trayvon Martin die for our sins? Depending on your politics, the answer might be yes. But let's not get too philosophical here.
In contrast to the serene approach of most Nativity scenes, Zachary and Claremont United Methodist aim, year after year, to remind us forcibly that Joseph and Mary were outsiders.
"I think the value of this is that it stretches us to think, what does the birth of Christ call us to do?" Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, the church's lead pastor, told me. But even she admits the violence of the scene is unsettling.
"I found this year's hard to look at. It's hard to look at a young man who's shot and bleeding to death. But even though I'm uncomfortable with it, that's the point," Rhodes-Wickett said. "We have to take a look at the violence."
Zachary and I met up Monday morning at the Nativity, where he was making a few repairs.
Even if this was an articulated dummy in street clothes and hooded sweatshirt, it was almost painful to watch the artist using a drill on Trayvon Martin's forearm. Hadn't the teen suffered enough?
A rod, painted red, between his chest and the floor illustrates a stream of blood.
Zachary, who was wearing a T-shirt with the famous image of a triumphant Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston in the ring, was cheerful and friendly. He talks with the cadences of his native Tennessee.
"I grew up in the Methodist church. All my family are Methodist ministers," said Zachary, who'll turn 58 on Jan. 2.
Residents of Claremont, Zachary, his wife and children have been attending Claremont United Methodist for 15 years. He is a Hollywood production designer, who designs, builds and "dresses" sets for TV and movie productions such as "Raising Hope," a Fox sitcom, and "My Name is Earl," a former NBC comedy.
Church leaders approached him in 2007 about creating and building a Nativity. Zachary began planning a typical scene. Then he had second thoughts.
Christmas traditions of gifts, celebration and warmth reflect "privilege," Zachary said, and "there's a lot of people who don't have that privilege. Maybe I should do something that's provocative, that's more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus."
That first year, he updated the Nativity concept, making Joseph and Mary a modern homeless couple on a ghetto street. The backdrop was a wall of graffiti.
"It was appropriate historically. They were homeless refugees," Zachary noted. "You try to put it in a context of how it would be today."
The scene struck a chord in the community. Elementary school students left notes of support, and a shopping cart in the scene was spontaneously filled with grocery items, which the church used for its food bank.
"It was received very well. From then on I've kept it in the contemporary context," Zachary said.
His subsequent scenes turned Mary, Joseph and Jesus into war refugees in Iraq, flanked by American soldiers, against a bombed-out wall with the slogan "Peace on Earth" (2008); into Mexican migrants halted by the U.S. border wall (2009); into an African-American woman holding her infant, sans Joseph, in a prison cell (2010); and again (2012) into a homeless couple, outside a chain-link fence that Zachary took down on Christmas Day to show their inclusion.
2011's scene skipped the Nativity, instead depicting the outlines of three couples, two of them same-sex, each holding hands, under the wording "Christ is Born." The figures of the two same-sex couples were later knocked over, which police investigated as a hate crime, although Zachary said "it was probably just kids or something."
This year's scene looks traditional at first glance. Joseph and Mary are in silhouette inside a wooden shelter against a backdrop that resembles stained glass.
Zachary said: "If you drive by, you think, oh, that's nice. Then you think, what's that black kid doing there? So you take a look."
The scene went up Dec. 8 and will come down Jan. 5. Response has been muted.
"I thought this would be more controversial, but I come to find out people don't really like people gettin' shot," Zachary said with a chuckle. "They may not agree what to do about it, but they agree it's a bad thing."
As we spoke in front of the scene, which is along a Foothill frontage road between a bank and a theology school, motorists cruised past for a look.
Anthony and Gloria Huerta parked and tried to take the scene in. Gloria focused on the angels. Anthony thought Trayvon was a zombie inserted by a prankster.
Once Zachary explained the scene, the Pomona couple seemed to appreciate his approach.
"They're not going to go crazy on you here. It's Claremont," Gloria assured him.
Later, retiree Viola Saunders of La Verne parked and walked up. She didn't look pleased. "It's pretty bad," she remarked.
Saunders said her friends at Pomona First Baptist Church were buzzing about the scene. "It takes away from the original," Saunders said before walking back to her car.
A couple of minutes later, she returned to take photos on her phone. She wasn't sure they turned out. Zachary politely took down her address and promised to mail her photos.
"I can see where you're coming from," Saunders told him, although she was still of the opinion the Nativity is too sacred to modify.
Rhodes-Wickett said her congregation, which meets in a sanctuary designed by architect Richard Neutra, is progressive. "Most people like something that makes us think and makes us search our hearts," she said.
"Some people think it's too edgy. I understand that point of view," she added. "I don't know what the future will bring, but at this point it's an annual thing."
Zachary said his faith has been deepened by the act of creating the scenes.
"As I've done these, Christmas has become more meaningful to me," Zachary said. "It's become deeper -- but not so literal."
David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, albeit not deeply or meaningfully. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-483-9339, visit insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.