By Margot Meier Howard
It was sunset and the small, brown field sparrows were huddled under the broad corner eaves of the front porch against blowing winds of chilling snow and ice. Safe inside a warm home full of Christmas lights, I watched their rusty capped heads move occasionally.
Breathlessly I waited for them to ruffle their feathers. I implored my father to bring the birds inside to warm them by our fire and to feed them bits of bread. My father explained to my 5-year-old self that the birds were perfectly adapted to survive the coldest of seasons. Their feathers and down plume kept them warm, and they’d stored seeds for just this time. Besides, the feeder in the back yard was full of millet, and the neighbors were leaving crumbs out, too. My heart settled down, and it was as if a bright star came out. Dad helped me understand that the little creatures knew just what to do in difficult times. It was an epiphany.
Years later, I began working in a large center that provided shelter, food, medical assistance, childcare and many other services for women, children and men. We were just opening the facility, and hundreds of people were arriving at the threshold. At first it felt overwhelming. I worried intensely for each person I met.
Throughout the busy day, I continually thought I saw my brothers Tom and Terry, then my sisters Pam, Mary and Sally, and then my Dad, and even Ginny, my best friend from childhood. There were so many who looked like people I had known my entire life.
That evening, I telephoned my Mom, thousands of miles away, and told her that it seemed as if I’d kept seeing the faces of my family and friends all day long as I walked the courtyards, cafeteria and corridors of the shelter.
“Why Margot,” my mother said, “that is the face of God you are seeing.”
My 30-year-old heart settled down, and it was as if a bright star came out. My mother helped me understand that the people all around me were my brothers and sisters and friends in Christ. It was an epiphany.
Years later, after a week full of work worries, the death of a colleague, and a big downturn in the economy, I expressed my sorrows and fears out loud. My son, then 15, was within earshot. He said with calm sincerity, “Mom, this too shall pass.”
My 52-year-old heart was consoled, and it was as if a bright star came out. My teenage son helped me remember that, indeed, we live in temporality and in that is a great grace. It was an epiphany.
For many years, the days of the Christmas season I’ve most enjoyed, have been the calm ones following December 25. All of the meals have been prepared and served, the works for our neighbors in need have been completed — at least for a brief moment — the cards have been sent, and the ribbon and wrapping paper cleared. It is a time of deep reflection during the lessened light of the shortest days and longest nights. It is a time to ease out of the busy-ness and ease into a more contemplative period to integrate Advent and then that time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.
Magi traveling from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
What an event to mark the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. The magi brought gifts and like them, IVC members bring their charisms in service. We travel to humbled places and are humbled in it. The revelation of the incarnation is offered to us every day, through the wisdom of nature, in the faces of those in our midst, through the consoling words of another. It is epiphany.
Margot Meier Howard is Regional Director for IVC San Diego. Her birthday is falls a few days after the Feast of the Epiphany.