Christmas Sunday: Shadows and Light

By Sandra Hasenauer

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Isaiah 9:2: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Luke 2:9-13 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

It’s Christmas! And it’s Sunday! What a wonderful concurrence of worshipful events! Both days celebrate an end to anticipation and a beginning of a new life with Christ. Both give us the opportunity to give thanks for the gift of reconciliation, mercy, and grace that we are given through the infant born and the man crucified and raised again.

But it’s important to remember that this in-breaking of lightness into darkness (to use biblical terms) doesn’t mean God is only present in the light. No, indeed. Our very hope in Christ comes from the fact that we are able to trust God in the shadow as much as we trust God in the light. We are able to give over our worrisome circumstances, our troublesome situations, our fears, disappointments, and all of those other things shadowing our hearts and minds over to God, because we have the promise of the baby born. The Luke passage reminds us that the glory of the Lord comes in the midst of fear–that we are assured God’s presence will ultimately bring justice, comfort, and peace.

There is a lot to be worried about in the United States and in Puerto Rico right now–civil difficulties, economic fears, walls rather than bridges, harsh rhetoric, anger, separation. But our God is Immanuel–God with us–the divine come as a human baby, vulnerable and born to a vulnerable people. Immanuel–God with us–who walked on human feet and wore human clothing and spent every waking moment with humans, knowing what it means to be hurt, to be disappointed, to be living in this world. Immanuel–God with us–calling us and walking with us in both shadow and light.

The light brings us hope, but the shadow brings us a call to be partners with God in building Beloved Community in our world. We feel God’s calling in our hearts, alongside the outpouring of grace and mercy we need to heed that call.

This isn’t a traditional Christmas carol, but it sums up our hope in Christmas day.

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.


Fourth Sunday of Advent: In Her Shoes

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

4thAdventVickyvSIn Puerto Rico it feels like we celebrate the longest Christmas in the world. Throughout my childhood, every Christmas morning my kid sister would wake me up several times during the night to see if Santa had already left the presents and gifts for us. By the time I was nine years old, I already knew the truth about Santa but for my kid sister Santa was as real and as good as ice cream.

It was 1975 and by Christmas my sister, a very precocious five-year-old, was very excited about the gifts we were just about to receive. She woke me up every hour on the hour to see if Santa had left our presents, until finally, around five o’clock a.m., there they were… our presents. She eagerly opened her gift and it was an educational, colorful, cute plush owl, from the campaign “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” Woodsy the Owl came with zippers, bottoms, laces, snap bottoms, and hooks to help children learn how to dress themselves.

She looked at it and hugged it and started crying. As she cried hugging her owl she said “Mi buhito, yo no quiero mi buhito,” which means: “My little owl, I don’t want my little owl.”

I didn’t want to be in her shoes. She kept crying louder and louder, and it woke up my mom. She came and took us back to our bedroom and, consoling her, explained that probably Santa made a mistake; it was very possible that he was on his way back with her gift and Mom asked my sister to go back to sleep and wait. My sister looked at her in horror and, still crying, told my mom: “Don’t you understand?!!! By now Santa should be by New York and for sure will not come back to Puerto Rico just for me!!!”…silence. As I looked at my mom’s face, I didn’t want to be in her shoes either. I lay by my sister’s side on her bed as she cried herself to sleep. Later, that morning she got a cool projector and whole bunch of gifts that I’m sure were meant for my cousins. I can’t remember what I got that 1975’s Christmas. But what I’ll never forget is the whole “owl scene” and my sister in despair because for sure Santa would not come back just for her.

In this time of Advent, as we are expectant for the coming of Jesus, I find myself wondering whose shoes are we in? Are they the shoes of the little girl in despair thinking that no one will come back just for her? Or are they the shoes of the mother, without the proper words or simply speechless amidst hopelessness? Or are they they shoes, maybe, of the older sister, watching it all happen and feeling just a little relief?

Psalm 80:3 says, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” These are the shoes I want all of us in. Let’s wear the shoes of knowing that Jesus came to restore us and will come back for us; the shoes of knowing that in our hopelessness he will save us. Let’s be in the shoes of bringing unto others the shine of God’s salvation.

Deborah Malave DiazDeborah Malave Diaz is national coordinator of Events for American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 


Third Sunday of Advent: My Soul Magnifies the Lord

By Patricia Hernandez

3rdAdventFunchye“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47, NRSV)

As I was reflecting on Mary’s Magnificat, I was drawn back to a time early in my ministry when I served in a missional ministry with migrant farmworkers. One summer we decided to hold a healing service for the Growers and the migrant farmworkers who were often at odds with each other. People laughed and said no one would come. Especially, they said, we would never get the Growers—the farm owners—to come.

But we prayed. And prayer is a mighty thing, a Mary Magnificat kind of a thing.

One Grower did come. And some skeptics standing by laughed and said, “See, only one!”

They teased and taunted till he wanted to leave.

But we prayed. And he stayed. Prayer is a mighty thing…

He was the only one. But he was enough. Now there was in the crowd a woman who had lost two children to pesticide-related deaths. She was bent over and twisted up. As she shared her story, her pain, her loss, the Grower was moved to tears.

He walked over to her, placed his hands on her shoulders, looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry.” And one Grower was enough. In that action, Christ was present. Later, Bernadette, the farmworker, said that she had never felt such love flow into her. And Jack, the Grower, said he had never felt such love flow out.

Both were healed and restored.

And a bent over woman and an over-powering man embraced.

She was raised up.

He bowed down.

Both became part of God’s family.

pat-h-prayingAll of this came back to me as I was reflecting on Mary’s Song of Praise, pondering the possibilities of this life changing event, her tumultuous, tummy-turning harbinger of the world to come, and the One who would usher it in.

She sings,

“He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.” (Luke 1:52)

Or we might say, “He has knocked down farm owners,

and pulled migrant farmworkers out of the muddy cornfields.”

Reconciliation is a rough process: a muddy, mucky, toppling, turning, but ultimately transforming kind of a process.

Reconciliation is no passive process but a passionate, purposeful re-making that results in an explosion of new life and new possibilities.

“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6)

With Mary we wait, patiently, pondering the tumultuous tide of seasonal striving.

While resolution came to Jack and Bernadette on that day, there continues to be injustice in the way that farmworkers are treated, and in the positional power that divides so many.

Let’s reflect on the things in our lives that need to be overturned, that…

barriers may be broken

bridges built

and bonds of community restored

that we may be and become the body of Christ with and for each other,

bursting into song with Mary:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47)

Patricia-HernandezRev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez is national director of American Baptist Women in Ministry/Transition Ministries.

Second Sunday of Advent: Stumps Bearing Fruit

By Angel L. Sullivan

2dAdventunderthesun“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit,” (Isaiah 11:1, NIV).  

These are the words written in the beginning verses of Isaiah.  As I read this verse from the prophet Isaiah, I could not help but to ponder on a stump bearing fruit. Have you ever looked at a stump?  Stumps are what is left after a tree has died and cut down. People often stub their toes on stumps, and if a stump is left in a person’s yard it is usually ground up and hauled away.  Stumps are thought to detract from a home’s landscape. But God says in this passage from Isaiah that a shoot will come up from a stump and bear fruit.

angel-advent-picSometimes we may see ourselves or our lives as a stump. We may feel as if we have no purpose, or that we are a nuisance to others, or that our life is in ruins. However, God has a way of looking at unexpected, disappointing moments in our lives–things that may appear dead and hopeless–and bring new life into them and into us.  The Advent season is a reminder that we have a savior born to us who gives us daily rest, wisdom, and understanding.  All we have to do is turn to him and trust him.  We have the assurance that, despite our shortcomings, he will not judge but through his mercy and grace Jesus will help us to continue towards righteousness.

God lets us know that through a tiny baby born to poor parents, from a town called Nazareth where “nothing good comes from” (John 1:46),  we are forever protected. In that day, God tells us, the root of Jesse will stand as a banner. All the peoples of all the nations will rally to him and his resting place will be glorious. God be praised.

AngelSullivan2013smThe Rev. Angel L. Sullivan is national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.