RAVENSWOOD — On a day in which violence against children dominated the news, Bethany United Church of Christ offered a return to innocence.
A living Nativity spread out on the church's front lawn Friday night, recreating Bethlehem's manger scene complete with farm animals and children taking on the roles of Mary, Joseph, angels and the Wise Men.
"What it conveys to me is the pure innocence of the baby Jesus and the innocence of all children. Contrast what's going on here and compare it to the violence in Connecticut, in society generally," said Pastor Bill Bordonaro. "This scene's what things would be like when God is in control. This scene is the world without fear — perfect love casts out fear."
For more than a decade, parishioner Linda Zawada has organized the living nativity as a way to give children a sense of the sights, sounds and smells that would have accompanied a manger birth.
"It reminds you of the humble beginnings" of Jesus, said Angela Zawada, 32, a Sunday school teacher at Bethany who helps her mother coordinate the event.
The presence of sheep, goats, a donkey and even ducks is a rare treat for city kids, who crowded the animals to pet and feed them.
"The kids absolutely love it," said Carl Nelson, whose children regularly participate in the event. His daughter Elizabeth was decked out as Mary and his son Seth portrayed one of the three Wise Men. "It's just a nice experience."
Newcomer Nancy Herman happened to be driving by and stopped with daughter Chloe, 9, at Bethany, 4250 N. Paulina St. The youngster, an avowed animal lover, was slightly disconcerted at having been "slimed" while offering a handful of oats to a sheep.
Mike and Rhondi Inman, neighborhood residents since 2011, were also making their first visit to the Nativity along with their toddlers Sullivan and Pemberley.
"We tell them everything about the birth of Jesus," said Mike Inman. "This brings it to life."
Milder temps may have explained the larger than usual turnout for the event.
Said Bordonaro, "I consider this our Christmas gift to the community."