Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
December 16, 2018
Advent 3, Guadalupe
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Let me tell you my story.
The year was 1521 when the world came apart at the seams and blew up. Strange white-skinned men had appeared that had hair on their faces and sticks and logs that spit fire and caused death at a distance. They first appeared as great beasts with four legs and two arms and two heads, until we realized that they were like us, but rode astride the beasts and did not walk. They had attacked the City at the Center of the Universe, Tenochtitlan, the city built in the middle of lake Texcoco, and with an astonishingly few men had overrun the city, burned it and killed the emperor.
They were crazy men, for all they seemed to want was gold. As the city burned, they ran from the flames carrying as much as they could. Some of them fell from the causeways that ran from the city to the mainland, and rather than release their loads and swim to safety, they clung to them and drowned.
The daily human sacrifices that kept the sun coming up day after day stopped. The standing army that made sure that a constant supply of new victims flowed lay in disarray. The sacred games were suspended. No one knew what would become of the world, but the world had not come to an end.
The Spaniards installed themselves as our new rulers. They brought new armies, and taught some of us to use the thundersticks. They brought new priests, who celebrated a different sacrifice, and the power of those sacrifices must be very powerful, for the sun continues to rise, and our crops continue to produce. They were cruel towards us, the Nahuatl people, the ones the Spaniards called “Aztec.” We became their servants, doing their bidding lest we be beaten or even killed. The world had not come to an end, but it was not really any better than before. In some ways it was, but in other ways it was not.
I had decided that it was best to adapt to this new way of life lest I die instead and my family be left destitute. Complying with what the new priests demanded, I was on my way to Mass one early December morning. My path took me around Mount Tepeyac, once sacred to Tonantzin, the old goddess of the hearth and home. She had been the counterpoint to the violence of the sacrifices on the temple top, one who reminded us that the offices of the temples ultimately provided for what she gave, the safety and warmth of the family. Sometimes I had wondered if she didn’t really like the killing, but she never told me one way or the other. But it gave the hill a different kind of feel than the temples. It was somehow warm and life-giving.
And so, on this particular morning, I suddenly heard singing in my own tongue from up on the hill. I looked up and thought I’d seen the goddess, arranged in beautiful array. She spoke to me, bidding me come up the hill, so I did. She explained that she was the Virgin Mary of the new priests, and she wanted a shrine built in her honor on that very spot.
She was so loving and beautiful, but she had certainly chosen the wrong person. I was but an Indian man, a servant of the Spaniards. What Spanish bishop would ever listen to the likes of me? She had none of it, however, and insisted that I be her messenger. I went on my errand. I waited all day to see the pontiff, and as I expected, he didn’t believe me. Well, the next morning the same thing happened. Again, I protested, and again she insisted, so again, I went to see the Bishop, and he told me that without a sign from the Lady he would not believe me.
I came home to find that my uncle, Don Bernardo, was ill with the Spaniard’s dreaded smallpox. It was not long before death was near and I had to go find a priest. I did not want to run into the Lady whom I had disappointed, so I went around the back way, behind the mountain. She found me there anyway, standing in the middle of the path. She looked at me lovingly and reassured me. I told her what the Bishop demanded, and she took me to the top of the hill. There, on the cold of December, were beautiful roses of Castile, in every color imaginable, growing in the desert soil. She carefully cut them, then wrapped them in my tilma, or poncho, and gave them to me. “Here is the sign the Bishop asks for,” she said.
Excited and worried, I made my way to the Bishop’s palace. There once again I waited all day. The guards taunted me and tried to see what was in the bundle. Finally, I was given entrance. I said, “Bishop Zumárraga, with all due respect, it is an honor to present to you the sign the Lady has given me for you.” With that I opened my tilma and the roses spilled out on the floor, and what not even I knew about, emblazoned on my tilma was her image.
Then the most amazing thing happened. As miraculous as the image was, this is the greater miracle in my mind, for suddenly the bishop was cut to the heart. He picked up my humble tilma gently and reverently. He placed it in his own oratory, and he said—the Bishop said to me (can you believe it?)—this is a miracle. Tonight, you will stay with me in my palace, and tomorrow you will take me to the place where the shrine is to be built. So, I stayed in the Bishop’s palace as his guest, and the next day we made a holy procession to the place. He commissioned the building of the shrine immediately.
Then I begged that I might leave, fearing my uncle had died without last rites in my absence, but when I got there my uncle was in glowing health. The Lady had appeared to him as well and healed him.
As far as I am concerned, she healed not just my uncle. She began the healing of the land itself. The land had been destroyed. The people of the land, my people, were living a living death. Yet she appeared and showed us a way forward. At her word and action, this lowly Indian man ended up telling the Bishop what the will of God was, rather than the other way around. She is brown of skin, as I am, and she speaks my language, and yet she is the Mother of the one the Spanish priests tell us is God become human—Jesus, whose one death redeems all future death. The Spaniards had not shown us any redemption of our living death, but the Lady did. In a way she turned an upside-down world right-side up again, a wonderful reversal in the name of God, and she chose me, an unlikely peasant, to make it happen. Now she, more than any of the other images of the Lady that the priests have shown us, is MY mother, for she is one of us.
I don’t know if you accept this story as I told it or not. There are those who say it is all fiction, or that the version we have today is wildly inaccurate. I don’t really care, for this is the story that has infused the mixed-blood Hispanic with a sense of hope since those early days. You see, her story is not unique. Oh, it is in the sense that it took place where and when it did, but the story resounds with Gospel themes that we hear echoing through the readings today. The reading from Zephaniah comes immediately after oracles of judgment. The Israelites’ world had also come apart at the seams and exploded, but in this oracle, God comforts his people with hope. The Canticle we recited from Isaiah bears the same message. In the reading from Philippians the apostle has just pled with two women who were having a spat–Euodias and Syntyche, and then he urges us to prayer and generosity of spirit, and God’s peace, that passes all human understanding will be with us. In the Gospel lesson John the Baptist is rather direct with his preaching, yet the whole message is called “good news,” and indeed it is, for Redemption is coming and this is how to get ready.
The Gospel is about divine reversals, where unexpected messengers speak truth to power and are listened to. Guadalupe gives expression to the Advent hope in the darkness. When our world comes apart at the seams and explodes, there is a way forward. The Presiding Bishop’s office Advent Curriculum asks us today to journey with community. Gaudete Sunday, Mary’s Sunday, and her journey from lowly peasant woman to the Mother of God is the same story as the other readings, and of Guadalupe.
The journey is not just with people for the sake of human company, though that is essential. The journey is also along a path well-trod by many, many before us, and many after us, all giving birth to the same desperate hope in the darkness, and all finding sooner or later, the light of hope. Together we will do unexpected things. Together we will see the divine reversal that brings hope and peace.
The Gospel is about divine reversals. Thursday through Saturday of this week I was with people from literally all over the Episcopal Church. Having heard of the darkness that the Central American migrants are facing as they cross into our land, they have come to see what they can do to bring hope. They felt somewhat like Juan Diego, standing before impossible odds of really achieving the goal they feel called to, and yet willing to do what needs to be done.
The Gospel is about divine reversals. Where are the great divine reversals of Advent taking place in your life, and where do they need to take place? Who is Juan Diego for you? What is his message?
The Gospel is about divine reversals. Who are those who walk with you, in the hope of light in the darkness? You, too, are Juan Diego. Look around and see, and join forces even in the face of the greatest obstacles. Hope is around the corner, now.
The Gospel is about divine reversals. Who are those who walk with you who have no hope? You, too, are Juan Diego. What can you do to share the Advent hope of this Sunday with them? How can the story of Guadalupe give them hope and end up doing that which is way beyond your capacity to do, to bring hope into the darkness?