By Nora O. Lozano
La versión en español está disponible aquí.
There are certain experiences that mark you forever. I had one of those five years ago. It was Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, and I was supposed to fly from London Heathrow to San Antonio, Texas. I had been in Oxford for a week, working as a member of the Baptist World Alliance team that held theological conversations with the Catholic Church (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity).
I had truly enjoyed the previous four yearly sessions, but this was one I dreaded because 2010 had been a challenging year on many fronts. In addition, I knew that it was going to be very cold, that we were going to work long hours, and the date was so close to Christmas. By the end of the week I was exhausted, and more than ready to go home.
Early on Saturday morning, I took a bus to London Heathrow, and observed that the snow was getting heavier. I arrived to the airport on time, and waited, and waited for my departure — until the screen showed that all flights had been canceled. I was caught in the famous 2010 blizzard that paralyzed most of England and a good portion of Europe.
Immediately after the cancellation announcements, the airport became chaotic. All passengers were required to exit the secured areas and collect their luggage. Hundreds of people were going back and forth trying to find solutions to their transportation, shelter and food needs. Thankfully, with the help of my sister in the United States, I was able to rebook my flight for Monday.
At that point it was impossible to leave the airport. So, I too, proceeded to cover my basic needs for the next two days. The airport was so cold as the automatic doors kept swinging back and forth letting in a constant chilly draft. I found the best possible place, and sat on the floor waiting for time to pass. By the time that I arrived home, I had been traveling for 74 hours, and had spent three nights and days in airports and flights. No shower, no bed, no privacy and long hours of waiting on the floor. I was grateful that I had a good book with me.
It was an awful experience, and it created a phobia of airports and traveling that lasted for months.
Did anything good come from this experience? After months of reflecting, I realized that I had gained the rare opportunity to experience, to a certain degree, what homeless people go through. I was by myself. At that time I did not have an international cell phone, and wi-fi was not generalized as it is today, so I was isolated from people who knew me. In England no one was looking for me or expecting me (later I learned that BWA officials and team members were desperately searching for me). I had to constantly carry my belongings, and guard my little floor space where I did my dwelling. The first night, the airport restaurants ran out of food. At a certain point, I was so tired and needed to sleep. Thankfully I had a belt with me, so I lay down on my little floor spot, tied my suitcase, briefcase and backpack to my leg, and went to sleep for hours.
Yes, to a certain extent, I was able to identify with some of the struggles that homeless people go through. They are isolated from family members, without an established living space, constantly carrying their belongings and trying to cover their basic needs. Without this experience, most likely I would have never gained this level of identification.
What I also gained was a broader understanding of the incarnation. It was necessary for humans to believe that God truly identifies with us. It was also needed in order to provide us, too, with the possibility of identifying with the Divine.
When the Word became flesh, God became a true human (John 1:14). Because of this, Jesus is able to understand and identify with our struggles in profound, mysterious and diverse ways. Black theologian James Cone recognizes that Jesus was Jewish. However, he claims, too, that Jesus becomes black when he enters into the black experience of oppression in order to save black people in their particular context. In a similar way, Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo affirms that Jesus was a cultural mestizo (mixed one), from a despised region (John 1:46), and with an accent (Matt. 26:73). As such, he is able to identify with the struggles that Mexican-Americans, Latinos/as and migrants/refugees experience in the United States.
Since Jesus understands so well what it is to be a human, he identifies deeply with all human struggles. He knows what we are going through, and because of this, he is constantly interceding for us (Heb. 4:15 and 7:25).
But through the incarnation, we, human beings, have the possibility of identifying with God, too. By observing Jesus, God’s most complete revelation (Heb. 1:1-3), we learn that love, compassion, peace and justice are high priorities in God’s scheme of salvation. We realize, too, that we are invited to join in God’s project of liberation and abundant life for all of God’s children.
In addition, by identifying with God’s priorities, we are able to gain a much needed sense of hope. Given the reality of today’s world, this hope is our only path to new dreams and visions for a better future. Furthermore, we learn that the only way to materialize this hope is by investing our lives in loving relationships with God and our neighbors.
While my experience at the airport was involuntary, God’s incarnation is admirable because it was voluntary. It was not easy, but God loved us so much that he decided to become one of us!
In many Latin American countries, Christmas Eve is called “la Noche Buena” (the good night), and poinsettias are recognized as “la flor de Noche Buena” (good night flower). I like these names because it was indeed a good night: when God became human out of love to bring us salvation and hope.
This is the real celebration of the season: God becoming one of us, so that humanity could be blessed and transformed forever. This transformation is still in process. Let’s celebrate “la Noche Buena” by joyfully embracing God’s salvation, and faithfully joining in God’s project of liberation and hope for all humankind. Amen!
Feliz Noche Buena for you and your loved ones!