Several years ago I was invited to a levantada del niño celebration at the home of a San Antonio family. The beautiful nacimiento they had prepared extended along three walls of the living room and was like none I had ever seen. It included the usual figures from the nativity story, of course: the magi with their camels and gifts, the shepherds and their flocks, the angels announcing the good news, Mary and Joseph, and the infant Jesus. What most caught my attention, however, were other characters, persons I recognized but had never seen depicted in nativity scenes. Elizabeth reached out with open arms to embrace her kinswoman Mary. Simeon looked with wonder at the child in his arms while the prophetess Anna raised her eyes and voiced her thanks to God. Jesus’ abuelos, Joachim and Ann, were also there, visible reminders that he had loved ones who rejoiced at his birth and concerned themselves with his wellbeing.

Other figures recalled the harsh events connected to the story of Jesus’ coming among us. A Roman official held an opened scroll and barked out Caesar Augustus’ command that all residents return to their place of origin and register for the census. One of Herod’s soldiers stood with a bloody sword over an anguished mother who embraced the murdered body of her son, one of the Holy Innocents. Mary and Joseph hastened on the flight to Egypt, Joseph looking back over his shoulder for signs of unwanted pursuers.

This was not the sanitized version of the Christmas narrative to which I was accustomed, but the scandalous, unedited, full biblical account of the Savior’s birth. On a personal level, this levantada celebration offered me a sensual encounter with an approachable God who takes on the vulnerability of a child and expresses God’s love in the tenderness of a newborn babe. Theologically, it impressed on me the shocking scandal that is the Incarnation, the outrageous belief that the creator of the universe became a child completely vulnerable to the actions of fellow humans.

For three decades I have been blessed with numerous spiritual experiences such as this one through my involvement with Hispanic faith communities as a theologian and pastoral formation leader. My calling to Hispanic ministry has been one of the greatest sources of grace in my life. It confirms in a deeply personal way the U.S. bishops’ declaration that Hispanics are “a blessing from God.”

Timothy Matovina works in the area of Theology and Culture, with specialization in U.S. Catholic and U.S. Latino theology and religion. His most recent book is Guadalupe and Her Faithful: Latino Catholics in San Antonio, from Colonial Origins to the Present (Johns Hopkins, 2005). Other publications include Tejano Religion and Ethnicity (1995), The Alamo Remembered (1995) and, with Virgilio Elizondo, San Fernando Cathedral: Soul of the City (1998) and Mestizo Worship (1998). He has also edited or co-edited seven volumes, most recently Beyond Borders (2000), Presente! U.S. Latino Catholics from Colonial Origins to the Present (2000), Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism (2002), and The Treasure of Guadalupe (2006). In addition to his scholarly work, Matovina offers presentations and workshops on U.S. Catholicism and Latino ministry and theology throughout the United States. Bio from the University of Notre Dame Website.

Copyright 2011 Timothy Matovina

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