Isaiah 9:2-7 – 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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. -NRSV
Christmas Eve is known in Mexico, as well as in other Latin American nations, as “Nochebuena” or “Good Night.” It is a “noche buena” or good night because it signifies the imminent arrival of Christmas Day. Nochebuena is a time for family gatherings, traditional meals, and Christmas presents. Growing up in Northwestern Mexico, Nochebuenas for me were nights filled with family (I have over thirty cousins in my hometown!) and delicious meals that included tamales, pozole, menudo, ponche, buñuelos, champurrado, and sometimes turkey or ham. They were also times of great fun with my cousins and neighborhood friends. We would spend hours on end playing with a great variety of firecrackers, which we would traditionally begin lighting right at midnight (or we would at least save our best firecrackers for that time) to mark the beginning of Christmas Day. I have many dear memories of Nochebuena as a child. It was a time that was marked by delicious aromas, the sound of joyful laughter, traditional music, and the glow of different colors of light. Light is indeed the common denominator of my Nochebuena childhood memories. Light played a crucial role in our celebration of Nochebuena and the coming of Christmas Day. Light was a constant presence that manifested itself in different ways: In the colorful lights that glowed every night from our roof and from our Christmas tree, in the colorful Christmas lights glowing in our neighbors’ homes and in some of the main streets of our town, in the beautiful light that emanated from the logs burning in our fireplace and in bonfires outside, as well as in the light that came from the burning candles that we held in our hands as we sang Noche de Paz (Silent Night) at the end of our traditional Christmas Eve worship service. Those lights were constant reminders of the great light of which the prophet Isaiah wrote. Reminders of the great light that came into the world when Jesus Christ was born. They were, and still are, a constant reminder of the great light that shone upon all of us who were living in darkness before the coming of the Messiah.
In this final week of our Advent journey, we are invited to continue our reflection, guided by our theme of “What Child Is This,” and to encounter the Christ Child in children with special needs. When there is darkness in the world, those in vulnerable situations and adverse life conditions are often the ones who yearn more desperately for the light to shine. This is the case of our neighbors, our sisters and brothers, our fellow human beings who are differently abled and who find themselves suffering amidst the darkness of our time: The dehumanization, demonization, and persecution of immigrants. A February 2019 article from IMM Print illustrates this reality by stating: “The process of detaining migrants is cruel, and the process is especially cruel to migrants with disabilities. There have been numerous reports of disabled children and teens being separated from their parents and guardians by border patrol agents. The Texas Tribune, for instance, has reported on a 16 year-old with severe epilepsy and autism who was separated from his grandmother when the two of them arrived at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico seeking asylum. Despite passing the standard screenings, the two were quickly separated and have not seen each other in almost a year. The Outline recently reported on a mother being separated from her seven-year-old deaf and mute child after crossing the border. Though the mother was eventually provided with the location of her child, she had no means to contact him, and the child vice versa had no means of contacting her. Even if the mother was given a number to call her child, it would have made no difference as reports showed that ICE facilities often are not only non-ADA compliant, but that they also provide no accommodations to individuals with disabilities in their facilities. While preparing this piece, I came across a story of a man who is deaf who was not only separated from his grandmother, but who was also then placed in handcuffs while he sits in detention — limiting the use of his hands which he relies on to communicate through sign language.” These words, and the dreadful situations that they describe, bring the darkness of our time into sharp focus. When those most vulnerable are dehumanized in such a way, we must cry out for the great light to shine with bright intensity to dissipate the deep darkness that has befallen this land. As we near the conclusion of our Advent journey, let us pray to the One whose coming Isaiah proclaimed naming him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Let us pray for his great light to shine brightly in and through us. Let us pray for his great light to pierce through the deep darkness that continues to dehumanize, demonize, and persecute the immigrants in whom he is present. Let us pray for his Spirit to constantly remind us of the words he speaks to those of us who have been granted the privilege of being his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) May the great light that has come into our lives because of the miracle of Christmas shine brightly in and through us to dissipate the darkness of our time. This land has seen times of darkness before: the darkness of genocide of native peoples, the darkness of slavery, the darkness of segregation, and the darkness of internment camps. It was during times of deep darkness that the great light of Christ shone brightly. This present darkness, hermanas y hermanos, is not a time to hide our light under a bowl. May the Spirit remind us of this truth as we celebrate Nochebuena and Christmas.
Please take a moment and respond to our Advent call through the following actions:
- Prayerfully read the following articles: The Rights of Undocumented Immigrants with Disabilities Needs to Be a Priority, The Deportation Fears of Immigrants With Disabled Children, The Forgotten: Disabled And Detained At The Border.
- Make a donation, and invite others to do so as well, to the Vulnerable Families Fund and/or to our NCCUMC Advance Specials, which are detailed here.
- Conduct a church accessibility audit.
- Make preparations to be fully inclusive of all God’s children.
Prayer: Wonderful Counselor we come to you in the midst of darkness. Mighty God we cry out before you. Prince of Peace hear our prayer. The darkness of this world cannot withstand your great light. Inspire and empower us in and through your Spirit so that your great light will shine with bright intensity to pierce and dissipate the darkness of our time. May it be so.
Edgar A. Vergara Millán