A brief reflection offered in the Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols, December 24, 2019 at 7 PM.
Listen tot he sermon HERE.
The week before last, I was in Mexico City for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, joining as estimated 9.8 million pilgrims this year. The celebration commemorates the appearance of Virgin Mary in 1531 to an indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego. As one might imagine, the Spanish bishop of Mexico was skeptical of this story, so he asked for some proof. Juan Diego went back to the hill where the image had appeared to him and there, she appeared again. When he told her his problem—that the bishop wanted proof—she told Juan to come back to the hill the next day and he would have his proof. When he returned, he found roses in full bloom, roses such as would never had grown on a dusty hill in Mexico. He gathered them in his tilma, or outer garment, and ran to show the bishop. When he unfastened the garment, roses fell out all over the place. And even more, on the tilma itself was the image of the Virgin Mary that ever since, has been recognized as The Virgin of Guadalupe. Because of her timing, the encouragement from the official church, and especially because her image blends aspects from the Spanish Virgin Mary with aspects of an indigenous Mexican girl, the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe went a long way in reconciling Aztec religious beliefs with Christian beliefs.
Many may quibble about the facts—is the Virgin of Guadalupe simply a revision of a similar image found in Extremadura, Spain, where many of the conquistadors came from? Was the image of the tilma really just painted by a first-generation Mexican convert to Christianity? Etc, etc.
Books are written about such questions, but the point I take from the story—and the point that millions of other people pick up either consciously or unconsciously—is that God (through his messenger, the Virgin Mary) spoke to a simple, ordinary man like Juan Diego. And that means that God might just speak to you and me.
But then, God has been pulling people aside and whispering in their ears since the beginning of time. It may not happen the way we expect, or by the means we might prefer, but God continues to speak.
In today’s readings and music, we’ve heard about this—how God tried again and again to get humanity’s attention—in the Garden of Eden, in the Wilderness, through rulers and priests and institutions, and means official and unofficial. And then, finally, God spoke to the Virgin Mary.
A young woman named Shannon Kubiak wrote a great little book a few years ago, in which she connects Mary’s calling from God and ours. She points out
Mary was a nobody, yet she found favor and blessing with God. How many times do we look in the mirror and find a nobody staring back at us? We often limit what God can do with our lives because we think our upbringing, our appearance, or our life is not a sufficient tool for the hands of God to use….[But] if Mary really was a nobody, all it took for God to make her “somebody” was one miracle on a lonely day when she was just going about her daily business… God called a girl. And that girl changed the world. The same God is calling again, and this time He’s calling you.” (God Called a Girl, p. 14-19, passim)
God called Mary. God called Juan Diego. I think God calls people like Greta Thunberg and Banksy. And God calls you and me. God calls us to continue to “make the word flesh,” to put God’s love into human form.
The wonderful Poulenc anthem we heard earlier asks of the shepherds,
Whom did you see, shepherds, say, Tell us: who has appeared on earth? . . . Say, what did you see? (“Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite?” by Francis Poulenc, 1899-1963)
After returning from Bethlehem, when people asked, I’m sure the shepherds tried to use words and gestures to explain what they had seen. Maybe they even quoted scripture. But what convinced (in their day and in ours) was whether their lives had changed because of what they had seen.
People will believe in a God of love when they see one—not in the scriptures or the skies—but in the way we act and speak and sin and forgive and continue to love. May we do our part God’s ongoing Incarnation.