Tonight I want to tell you a story. This story is probably more legend than fact, but it is a true story.
This story has touched millions of people, and still touches them. We do well to hear their this story because it is their story. It can be ours if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Here is the story:
Nearly 500 years ago, an Aztec Indian with a Spanish name – Juan Diego – saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The local Spanish bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, did not believe Juan Diego and told him to bring back proof of this vision.
Juan Diego went to where he saw the apparition, and saw her again. She told him to return to the bishop, and when he did, he came back with his tunic full of flowers – Castilian roses – and the roses were blooming in winter. When Juan Diego poured the roses from his tunic, an image of Mary was imprinted on his tunic.
That image has become probably the most copied and venerated image of Mary in the world.
Today is her feast day - Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – the Virgin of Guadalupe. This day in 1531 marks when an poor Aztec peasant brought roses to the bishop, and the bishop had to believe him.
Whether you believe in the story, or believe it happened exactly that way, is less important than what she represents primarily to the people of Mexico and Latin America; and what it represents to people in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; and what it represents to to thousands of people who live here in Charlottesville who we rarely see on this corner except to trim the lawns and clean the toilets of UVA.
Her shrine near Mexico City is the most visited and venerated Marian shrine in the world. The Virgin of Guadalupe is sometimes known as the brown virgin – her skin color is that of the indigenous peoples of America. She is the Mary of the poor and the outcasts and those left behind or wiped out as Europeans colonized, industrialized and regimented the Americas.
Even the word “Guadalupe” has roots in native Aztec language, and many believe her image is filled with Aztec symbols.
She is the Mary of hope to the poor of the Americas, and these days hope is especially in short supply in Mexico these days.
There is one more level to this that I would commend to you, and I believe it makes this story of Guadalupe everyone’s story, and part of the Christmas story.
The Holy comes to us not just in male imagery – not just as God the Father and God the Son. The Holy can come to us as female, as a woman, as a mother, and she can and will touch us here in our heart in ways that will comfort us, give us courage and strength, and change us in ways we can scarcely imagine.
The Holy Spirit is like a wind that will blow where she will, and will show her face in ways that speak to us in the depths of our soul, and gives us strength and courage when we most need it most. The question is do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
To me, this idea of Guadalupe is a reminder that not all of life can be understood by our intellect. That is an especially important message to us who work or study or live near this great university. Not everything lends itself to neat equations.
Much of life is inexplicable and can only be experienced as the inexplicable. Sometimes a legend or a poem is more powerful than a dense treatise.
The holy can come in surprising ways when we least expect it as a friend who listens, or in the quiet of the night, or as a woman bearing roses in winter, or as a newborn child.
The story of Guadalupe is part of the Christmas story, for she points to the messiah who is to come and is already here.
We hear John the Baptist in the Gospel asking what kind of messiah is here, and Jesus replies that his messiahship is not about power and violence. This is the messiah of the weak and lonely.
John the Baptist asks, and Jesus replies: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
In this season of Advent, as we go about our busy lives, as exams and papers come due, it is my prayer that all of us here – you and I – will pause and look for the Holy in our every day life. Look for the holy in the ordinary, look for the holy in face of the person next to you – and be ready to be surprised. Watch for the Holy, she is here now. Amen.