The Friday Reflection – January 4, 2019

From Tom Hampson,
St Anne’s and St. John the Evangelist Missioner

While I was still living in Baltimore, Maryland, I attended a church in the inner city. The congregation was a wonderful mix of activists, college professors, health care workers and unhoused persons. I really enjoyed getting to know them. Then there was Robert. Robert scared me. Robert was about 6’5” with a cadaverous face that reminded me of Lurch on the Addams Family. He lived in a nearby group home and had a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities that made his movement and his behavior unpredictable. I steered clear of him. But Robert always made his presence known. He loved to sit in the front row, so he was hard to miss. And, he loved to sing – loudly – even though he couldn’t carry a tune. Annoying. Then, one day during the service, we were singing a hymn – I don’t recall which one – and my eyes met Robert’s. We just looked at each other as we sang, and I saw his face lit up with joy as he bellowed the hymn. And in that moment all the fear and annoyance fell away and in some way that still mystifies me, I loved him. And for the remainder of my time in that church, Robert and I became friends. It was as if in that moment I really saw him for the first time – saw his love, his delight – despite his disabilities. It was a kind of epiphany.

We are fast approaching the feast of Epiphany – where we celebrate the arrival of unexpected strangers bearing gifts. The Magi’s dedicated search for the Christ child serves as a reminder to me to look for Jesus in surprising places, like my experience with Robert.

I’m finding Epiphany this year particularly meaningful as we have unexpected guests at our southern border – the so-called caravan. The long saga of their journey from Central America to our border could be perceived as something heroic, a kind of exodus, but has been too often portrayed as some sort of barbarian invasion.

To provide a more informed view of the people who constituted the caravan and what motivated their extraordinary journey, the EDSJ Immigration Task Force enlisted British journalist, Sean Hawkey, to lead a webinar on the caravan on Dec. 22. Sean spent a month traveling with the caravan from Chiapas in southern Mexico to Tijuana on behalf of Lutheran World Relief and the ACT Alliance. He’s a knowledgeable and experienced source on Central America.

His presentation was powerful both for his description of the gang violence and corruption that have driven so many to flee their home countries, and for the portraits of the people he met, who are seeking a better and safer life for their families. Please take time to listen to the hour-long webinar. I think you’ll find it informative and thought provoking:

SJRaise Webinar

I’d also recommend this brief video Christmas card produced by the World Council of Churches that uses some of Sean’s video footage. It’s beautiful and inspiring.

World Council of Churches Christmas greeting 2018: We know there are no strangers to God

As you celebrate Epiphany this year, please keep in your prayers the migrants in Tijuana and the many others who live on the margins in our world. Like the Holy Family, they are searching for a safe place to call home. And they, too, bring surprising gifts that can enrich our lives.

The WCC video reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas poems, “The Work of Christmas” composed by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Blessings in this New Year.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

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