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José y Maria

José y Maria

José y Maria, comic art by Everett Patterson. (Click to enlarge)

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Happy Hanukkah, too! It is Christmas Eve as I write this. You’ll read it on the Fourth Day of Christmas, with UPS all set to drop off your four calling birds! Christmastide extends through Epiphany, the feast of the three Kings, on January 6, so please don’t put away your Christmas spirit just yet.

As I put down these thoughts, I am looking at a work of spiritual art that I hope will feed my spirit and form my attitudes through Christmastide and on into the new year. I share it in the hope that it will touch your hearts and fire your spirits too.

The image by artist Everett Patterson is drawn in literary comic-book style. In shades of purple, lavender and gray, it depicts a gritty street scene with a poor young Latino couple standing on a sidewalk in front of a convenience store at night. The man has a public telephone wedged between his shoulder and ear; he balances a phone book in one hand. His baseball cap is on backward. He looks worried. His wife rests at his side, resting by sitting sideways on a child’s mechanical pony ride. It’s marked out of order. She holds a hand over her very pregnant abdomen. She wears a watch cap under a hoodie pulled up so it looks a bit like a hijab. She looks worried too, and tired.

Are you starting to see the picture? The artist loads it with evocative hints: The woman’s hoodie reads “Nazareth High School” in capital letters. A sign in the store window, advertising Starr Beer, bears a blue neon star. A poster calls out “Good News.” Around the corner, a lighted sign for Dave’s City Motel reads “NO VACANCY.” A discarded newspaper in the gutter shows ads for “Glad,” “Tide,” and “Shepherd Watches.” In a crack in the sidewalk a hopeful green shoot has sprouted between the man and woman.

Are you starting to … get the picture? The image is titled “José y Maria,” “Joseph and Mary.” Suddenly it all comes together: The holy family as the other, the oppressed, a Latino couple in poverty, unable to find a room for the night, looking for shelter, worried about the child they soon will welcome into the world.

There is more going on here than the shock of the unexpected. This image brings us back to the very root of the Gospel, the sub-text of the story that we see in both Luke’s and Matthew’s narratives of the Nativity, if only we look closely enough to find it.

Like this couple, Joseph and Mary were poor, alone, a people oppressed in a land run by a distant empire. Their birth would be seen and celebrated by more of the poorest of the poor, shepherds out working on a winter night. Soon they would be forced to leave their land, desperate refugees, surely without papers, bound for a foreign country to save their child from an angry king.

Yet this is a father and mother visited by angels who told them of a different destiny, and they accepted that, the father taking his pregnant fiancee knowing that the child was not his own; the mother accepting God’s call to bear a savior, responding with a joyous song of God’s liberative power:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

Surely this bold mother helped shape the form of her Son’s Good News, a son who would go to the synagogue and preach from Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free …

As we go into the New Year, let’s hold the image of José y Maria in our minds and hearts, remembering that it was their son, Jesus, who grew from roots in poverty to remind us to love one another, love our neighbors, even love our enemies, and to give all that we have before we come, follow him.

Feliz Navidad!

Robin Garr

About Robin Garr

Robin Garr and his wife, Mary Johnson, have been members of St. Matthew’s for nearly 10 years, but Robin has spent about half that time serving other Episcopal churches in the diocese, including Ascension, St. Luke’s, and St. Thomas; he received the Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and served seminary internships at St. Matthew’s and St. Thomas; he also served three years as staff coordinator of Evangelism and Parish Life and part-time preacher and teacher at St. Thomas, and served a summer as full-time Chaplain intern at Baptist Health Louisville. In the larger world he has been a journalist at The Louisville Times and Courier Journal, and social-justice advocate with the national non-profit World Hunger Year, where he wrote a book, Reinvesting In America.
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One Comment

  1. Thank you for this, Robin. That’s a beautiful piece, giving a beautiful story new life.
    And thank you to all who have made this blog series so meaningful throughout its life. You have each given much to this parish.

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