Every Advent I seek sightings of the Christ Child. I am never disappointed. There is something about this season that seems to make the human heart a bit more gentle, vulnerable, loving and hopeful. Nature itself with its shorter days of light seems to move at a different pace, slower and more introspective in its cycle of darkness. For me these are all sightings of God at work, extending divine love and care through all of Creation.
As I contemplate this year’s Advent sightings of the Christ Child, I am reminded of the LYFT driver who shared with me a plan for overcoming homelessness. “It takes building relationships,” he said to me on the way to the airport. “And what better way than to share a cup of coffee with a homeless person and inviting others to do it with us. Donations from those who can contribute would pay for the coffee of those who can’t. People just having coffee with each other, growing into love for one another, building family. It’s hard to leave someone out in the cold when you grow to know them and love them like family.” He had already recruited a friend who owns a coffee shop to collaborate with him! I left this young man’s vehicle and loving presence feeling so hopeful. I didn’t realize I was smiling until a person coming down an airport escalator as I went up nodded and smiled back at me!
On a recent dark Advent night, I encountered the presence of the Christ Child in a most unexpected way. I had just completed a conversation with one of our congregations in the Central Valley District about the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our churches and ministries. I was exiting the sanctuary and looked and saw a very tall, broad-shouldered and bearded man standing at the door as if waiting for me. I caught myself straightening up and preparing for a serious conversation with a person who I thought for sure had a different opinion than I do. He did in fact have a different opinion, but what was on his heart was more important than our differences. I came close to him and nodded to acknowledge his presence, but before I could say anything, he shared a witness with me.
He had become involved in the congregation’s grief ministry when his first wife had died. He is today a leader of this important ministry. I looked at him and expressed my condolences. He told me he had remarried and was doing well. The grief ministry was a continued source of meaningful ministry for him. Then he stopped for a second, long enough for me to see his tender heart. He leaned closer to me and then said something to me that I did not expect. In a hushed, mournful, loving voice, he said, “I’m walking with a gay man who just recently lost his partner, and Bishop, his pain is just like mine.” He was waiting there to tell me this. We may have different perspectives about the full-inclusion of LGBTQ persons, but it is clear that we all share the pain of human suffering. Did the Christ-Child not come to heal our broken hearts and the human suffering we share? Not just for some, but for all of us.
I was drawn to visit a church this Advent season because of their good work in their community. When the teachers in their school district determined that it was necessary to go on strike for fair wages, they opened the doors to the church and welcomed the children who would have no place to go if they couldn’t go to school. They also opened the church to welcome parents and schoolteachers and anyone else who needed a place of safety and support. The day I visited this church the head of the Teachers Union had also come to the worship service. After worship he said to me, “This church has become our meeting place as we seek justice for schoolteachers so they can do an even better job of teaching our community’s children.” It was a wonder to see a church truly being the Church. Above all, I saw the children that day and felt the divine joy and love of God within their spirits.
I also saw a child, however, under much different circumstances. I was encountered by this child at a make-shift migrant settlement. It was cold and raining. Scraps of tarp, boxes and old fabric created tiny hiding places for these migrants seeking shelter from the cruel weather and from the harsh treatment from others who view them as a nuisance and treat them as less than human. The group I was with and I were tourists to this land of human despair. We saw the suffering in the clear awareness that at the end of the day we would leave this place and return to our warm and comfortable hotel, and soon enough our homes. As we walked among these suffering ones, a child, not yet a toddler, stuck it’s head out of his family’s hiding place weeping in the cold. Was this what the night felt like to Mary and Joseph at the birth of baby Jesus as they struggled with poverty at the margins of life?
Mary and Joseph and the privileged creatures at the manger were the first to see the Christ Child. I wonder about Mary and Joseph’s sightings of him before his birth. Mary saw an angel bearing startling good news that reminded her of the divine promise that,
God’s mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Inspired by the touch of the Holy Spirit, Mary could see that the child in her womb would bring to life God’s sacred and faithful promise of justice and redemption.
Joseph heard an angel telling him to live beyond the human laws of his day. Instead of abandoning Mary for the indiscretion he assumed she had committed, the angel called him to trust God and work with God and with Mary for the birth of the Child who would bring salvation to the world (Matthew 1:18-24). In faithfulness Joseph joined his courage to that of Mary and stayed with her. Together they became mighty partners in the hands of God, even in their lowliness in the eyes of others.
I think the four-legged creatures at the manger on the night of the Christ-Child’s birth had also seen and felt sightings of our Savior even before he was born. The stillness of the night, the light in the darkness, the whispers of joy arising from the spirit of Creation, the breath of God bringing forth life upon the earth – all signs of God among us!
I seek to see the Christ Child through my daily devotions, through worshipful gatherings of the staff of our Conference Center, and Sunday worship at churches in our Conference. I love the songs of Advent, the ritual of the lighting of candles, and hearing anew the Biblical story of this blessed season. But this year I have been powerfully reminded that the Christ Child is born on the margins of life, among the poorest, in the darkness of rejection, among the lowliest of creatures, in the crevices between death and life. Can we meet him there?
Let’s walk out into the darkness, out to the margins of life, into places we may not choose to go. Let’s extend ourselves to those whose life may be different from ours. Let’s share our lives and what we are blessed to have with those who have nothing and who yearn for a true friend, a loving family. Let’s be vulnerable dreamers of the world as it should be according to God’s hope. Let’s travel to where the Christ Child will be born anew this year and every year so that we can fully see and experience the glory of God’s presence with us.
Let’s not get so busy with making our Advent and Christmas Eve worship services and our family celebrations so perfect that we lose sightings of God beckoning us to go to the places where the Christ Child is being born even now.
Advent blessings to All of you,
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;