“Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow…” The prophet Isaiah foretells Jerusalem’s future, the promise of a new creation. The Magi, scientists and scholars, experienced this as they traveled in darkness, led by a brilliant light. One encounter with the Lord and they were never again the same. They couldn’t even go back the same way, their journey took a different turn. What began as a scientific and scholarly venture, became a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage. And that journey was filled with surprises, especially surprising turns.
The star, the light that led them, brought them to a child. I’ve been reflecting on how we respond to our first sight of a newborn. We describe a mother-to-be as radiant. So many life events—birth, baptism, “firsts”, marriages and other events have our hearts throbbing and overflowing with joy.
The Feast of the Epiphany is about awakening, paying attention in new ways, celebrating what we learn when light shines in the darkness. We lit candles in the darkness at Taizé as we prepared our hearts for Christmas—the birth of Jesus and the re-birth of hope in our lives. We learned to be silent, to be still, and to hear the words and music. We celebrated Christmas at night with new lights everywhere—on trees, in Nativity displays, and a light that was shining in each of us. We too experienced the radiance at what we saw—God among us, Jesus born, Jesus beheld, Jesus carried, Jesus the source of a movement in our hearts, a movement described in throbs and overflows of LOVE.
Did we see it? Did we pay attention? Did our encounter with the Lord change us, enlighten us, and have us “go home another way”? What encounters with the Lord to we look forward to in this New Year? How will we “behold” the light in and on our New Year?
We Are Family
How is your family? I often both ask and get asked. Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family provide countless experiences of “family.” Some are joyous and filled with surprise announcements. Some are visits that we dread—family members ask inappropriate questions, start political or ideological fights, and spread gossip. Some are glorious reunions. Some are experiences of drifting apart. Some are missing loved ones who have joined a heavenly family. Family can be messy and complicated! Family can also be a blessing! Family can mean support and understanding, unconditional love and respect, encouragement, and inspiration.
Perhaps living in anxiety and struggle with COVID, we have experienced new calls to expand our concept of “family” and what it means to be “children of God.” Perhaps we have become more aware of how the experience of “being lost” feels? In the Temple, Jesus was drawn to those from whom he could learn and grow, even when his actions separated him from Mary and Joseph and caused great anxiety. He confounded his teachers in the Temple with questions and answers.
I had wise aunties who often ended difficult conversations about family members with “Just remember, no matter what, we are family!” I am grateful for that wisdom and understanding that focus on right relationships that they instilled in me. Life as a family can be very complicated. Still, we are family!
This Christmas, I am grateful for all that has been “born” in me—new awareness of how we are called to love and care for all the “children of God.” No exceptions! I have asked questions and learned from others. I have listened for understanding and not to convince others to think as I do. I have spent time with my brothers and sisters from all over the city of San Antonio, not just on my side of town, in efforts to make our city better, to improve the lives of those who are lost to the systems. I have new sisters and brothers! My family has changed and my family has grown.
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Womb to Womb
Of the four Gospels, Luke includes women and their experiences more often than any of the others. This Sunday we hear about Mary and Elizabeth, both at extremes in their capacity to bear children. Mary might be considered too young and Elizabeth too old. God looks upon both favorably and chooses them! Nontando Hadebe, an African, laywoman theologian, writes, “God it seems believes in women, takes women seriously, and trusts women with the greatest event in history.” Mary and Elizabeth lived in an oppressed nation where women had no significance, status, or power. They did however have a relationship with God and with each other. Mary’s unaccompanied trek to visit Elizabeth becomes a “visitation” like no other. Their heart-to-heart talk includes a “womb to womb” communication between their children. The sharing of life, of values, of ways of being there for each other are an expression of women’s power, of women being there for each other, of standing strong together, of using voice and action to assert a different kind of power. Hadebe continues, “In a world where a third of women globally experience violence, the power of women circles and authority to speak and bring life to each other, the story of Elizabeth and Mary is indeed the Advent story of hope for women.”
You can read Hadebe’s full reflection here: