At Advent and Christmas, we muse on the Bethlehem of two millennia ago. If we stop there, we miss the point.

Jesus incarnate is no artifact. The church teaches that, by the Holy Spirit, the Lord acts concretely in the here and now, almost always calling for our cooperation.

Look out your window. See the industrious wrinkled woman sweeping her porch like a Texas tornado. She raised a house full of children and grandchildren, some of whom broke her heart, but whom she fiercely loves and supports anyway. Like some new Mary, she carries God’s just and unconditional love to the planet.

Down the road, an immigrant family struggles to pay rent. At an underpass nearby, homeless people snared by addiction sleep in tents. All are modern versions of Joseph and Mary asking for a place to rest.

Now the burly mail carrier ambles past. He was a teacher for years but the classroom wore him out. His cheery whistle on the doorstep echoes the awestruck shepherds crying out in the fields near Bethlehem, giving voice to pain, hope and joy.

Downtown at Blanchet House, a platoon of the seemingly hopeless wait in line for a hot meal and a warm hello. For a moment, light shines in the darkness for them as it did for the three Wise Men.

The Incarnation has many implications. One is that regular human lives — messy and sinful as they are — potentially embody the divine presence and carry forward the work of God. That truth may not always be evident. We can, through prayer, cultivate the ability to notice the brief glimpses of holiness, the small incarnations that flash before us daily. The 19th-century poet Father Gerard Manley Hopkins put it well: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”