posted on November 29, 2018
Like so many of us, there are particular sounds and songs during this season that immediately transport me back to my childhood. You know that as soon as you hear them, you can probably share an image that epitomizes for you what Christmas felt like growing up. In my Puerto Rican household there was a lot of music, but there was one particular album that was the unofficial marker for us that the season had begun. Cantares de Navidad was a compilation of some of the most beloved crooners, duos and trios of Puerto Rico singing aguinaldos (literally means gifts) and other heartfelt songs.
There was one particular crooner on the album that sang some of the most poignant songs in the entire collection, Felipe "La Voz" Rodriguez. He had this way of singing that almost sounded like crying, very pre-Mark Anthony full of passion, conviction and deep sentiment. My entire family would imitate his vibrato around the house because it was unique and distinct. But what really got me were the songs he sang. They were full of contradictions, in fact, the entire album was. He sang songs that told about the magic and wonder of Christmas but in the same song would remind you that for many that magic and wonder is hidden by the poverty that surrounded them. Although it was released in the 1960s, Rodriguez sang of the ongoing poverty in Puerto Rico produced by the disparity and inequity of wealth and the impacts of colonialism and colorism.
One of the songs he sang was Los Reyes No Llegaron (The Kings Never Arrived). The song is about a child who has woken up on El Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), which is a bigger deal for most Latinos than Santa Claus, surrounded by toys but imploring his mother to open the door to the young child outside who is looking in with nothing to play with, nothing to eat and with longing in his eyes. The song has produced artistic renditions, and it was considered then and now a reminder of the political and social situation that many Puerto Ricans faced. It was and still is powerful to me.
As a singer, I know the importance of communicating what the composer and lyricist wants to say with integrity and you have to be able to connect to a vulnerable place inside yourself in order to do that. Felipe "La Voz" did that with deep long notes and sounds of imploration in his voice. He lived this so that's where it came from. As much as we may want to wrap Christmas up with pretty bows and Hallmark movies (apologies to all the Hallmark channel lovers) when we look at what's happening in our world right now, we just can't hide away the truth.
Advent doesn't wait for you to be ready. In fact, that's the whole point. In the midst of chaos, in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis, in the midst of tear gas and family separations, mass shootings every other day, black men and women systematically being victimized and killed, hate crimes rising, people being demonized and demoralized because of who they are and who they love, God doesn't wait for us to get it together. Advent is a contradiction. It's beautiful and surprising and it is painful and scary.
I think sometimes we need a reminder of the historical, social and political context Mary and Joseph found themselves in when they received the announcement that they were going to be parents. It wasn't pretty! Like so many parents, they probably asked themselves how do they dare bring children into this world, right now. But yet it keeps happening, like an undercurrent of unwavering resistance and hope, like a marching caravan, babies come and families are made.
The words of Jesus on this first Sunday of Advent echo again in our ears "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28) With resilience and bravery, these families at our borders come to unravel and shake up our comfortable Christmas, and ready or not here they come.
At our recent MFSA National Board Meeting in Detroit, Michigan, we acknowledged the prophetic statement written by our Council of Bishops entitled, Joint Statement in Response to the Central American Migrant Caravan.
As we read the statement aloud we felt our hearts strangely warmed by God's Spirit and we were proud to see that our Bishops have responded so boldly in the face of oppression with Advent Hope and accountability. As an organization that seeks to be a "plumbline in the midst of the people" (Amos 7:8) we have committed ourselves with them to the work of living in the contradictions with integrity, power, and hope. We have a word from the Lord to share, that reminds us that even though we live in the midst of conundrums and quagmires that is the kin-dom of God here and not yet realized, we do not hide away from our responsibilities to be faithful witness and disciples of Jesus Christ. As Karl Barth said, "we must do theology, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." It is an incarnational task.
It is our hope that other faithful United Methodists and people who are committed to justice and equity will follow the lead of our Council of Bishops and engage in justice-seeking work that seeks not to cover up the gift of Jesus' birth with pretty packages and bows but boldly proclaims Emanuel, Dios con Nosotros! Immanuel, God with us, even in the midst of contradictions.
May we be as bold and brave as these traveling holy families. Join me in giving to MFSA this advent season.
Si se puede. Amen,
Rev. Lydia Munoz
Incoming Co-President MFSA Board of Directors
Pastor Church of the Open Door Kennett Square, PA
P.S. (You can listen to the song yourself)