Third Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Commemoration of La Virgen de Guadalupe
By: Rev. Rodriguez
Signs of Hope: The Star from Heaven
Blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, + Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
“A great portent appeared in heaven:
a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was pregnant
and was crying out in birth pangs (Rev 12:1-2a).”
What Lady is this, silhouetted by the sun, mustered up by the moon, crowned with stardust, in labor? Is she Maris Stella? Mater Dolorosa? Theotokos? Regina Coeli? Help of Christians? Flower of Carmel? A simple answer need not look further; verse 5:
“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron but her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne.”
If we are all careful exegetes and mindful liturgists, we would easily see the connection between the male child and Christ. If so, then we would answer what lady is this whose child was laid to rest with this, this is Mary, the Mother of God, the glad tiding of the angel Gabriel. Beyond this simple guess-who of biblical characters, this lady embodies the living, breathing hope of the church for our long-expected salvation.
It is this hope that Zechariah announced when he said to daughter Zion, “Sing and rejoice…For lo, [God] will come and dwell in your midst (Zec 2:10).” It is this hope that the church commemorates when we recount the story of Mary’s appearance to San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (Little Eagle) on the mount of Tepeyac. We who live with chronic hardships, loss of loved ones, and uncertainties about the year to come, (truly all of us) need tangible signs of hope to manifest.
This morning I want to focus on the discernible signs of hope in-and-around-us, and in the figure of Mary, the bearer of incarnate hope. First, I will focus on John of Patmos, and how he describes the signs of hope in and around us as endurance. Then, we shall see how Mary bears incarnate hope, for us, through La Virgen, and into the next generation. For hope in us, like a flower, grows almost imperceptibly to the naked eye until we notice its buds in the moments and hours of our lives.
Certainly, the “prophesies” of the last book of holy scripture continue to germinate in uncertainty and confusion. This book/quasi-letter ends with two certain hopes: these words are true…[and they] must soon take place, and “Surely I am coming soon (Rev 22:6, 20).” But our lesson today seems to challenge these two certainties. The first and obvious is that of timing: And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God (Rev. 12:6). Are we experiencing this now? Does soon mean within several months of John’s letter being sent out? The second issue derives from the first issue: “Now have come the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah (Rev. 12:10ab).” If the kingdom has already arrived, how has it arrived? May I perceive this kingdom in an overt way (which mind you, I would immediately object to, considering the widespread surge of destabilizing political violence in the world)? Or are there signs, as John himself implies when the elders around God’s throne room say: “these are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (Rev 7:14)?”
Here is my first point: the signs of hope in and around us come to us through the endurance of faith. Not our endurance as the ground of all being as if we were the woman in the wilderness, without the grace and strength prepared for us by God. For the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and us, hope arises through the grace God gives to us as we ourselves experience the challenge of faithful living as Christians. How do we make sense of all kinds of afflictions we endure? The chronic pain after surgery. Families who shun us for being who we have been made to be. The sudden loss of security, life, love.
I think of San Juan Diego and his uncle. There had been a terrible small pox plague in the 1570s that struck down almost a third of all the inhabitants in and near the valley of Mexico. In the excerpt I have included in your bulletins, San Juan Diego has endured much difficultly in announcing to the Bishop, Mary’s desire for a house of God’s compassion be built on Tepeyac. He himself says, “I’m small. I’m a no one, and you…send me to a place where I do not belong…..I know that ist will be difficult for them to believe me.”
What may be said when hope seems beyond all rational thinking? We turn to signs to helps us experience meaning in our lives. The image of the woman crying out in birth pangs…g[iving] birth to a son (Rev. 12:2b, 5a), shows us that enduring, we find God himself, his Son, being born anew. He is our living hope. In all kinds of challenges, be they almost insignificant to life-changing, the Word made flesh, God-with-us, Jesus Christ pours out upon us a hope that thrives. A hope that grows and matures in endurance. What John depicts in symbolic detail, Paul spoke plainly that, “affliction [DOES] produce endurance, and endurance [DOES] produce character, and character [DOES] produce hope, and hope does not disappoint [us] (Rom 5:4-5a).
Here is my second point: Mary is the precisely the one who know this living hope because she bore him in her womb. She herself is a sign that enriches the signs of our living hope within-and-among us. Mary’s response, her fiat, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Lk 1:38),” is not delivered in uncertainty, as if she were to say: Here I am, a faithful adherent of God’s Torah. If what you say is true, which I am not entirely sure this is not a dream, then let it happen, buddy. Rather Mary trusts her cousin, Elizabeth.
Hence why after Gabriel announces this glad tiding, she immediately and with haste [to] greet Elizabeth. She needed to see if within her was as the poet Dante wrote in Canto XXXIII of his Paradiso: Within [her] womb rekindled was the love, by heat of which in the eternal peace after such wise this flower has germinated. Let us then turn to this love, to Mary and the child within her, and offer these token of roses as signs of hope for each other. On that cool December morning, upon the peak of Mount Tepeyac, at the word of Mary, San Juan Diego gathered roses in his tilma to do precisely that: show to the Bishop and the world, hope of incarnate love for the least, the lost, and the lowly.
Who is this lady, her compassionate gaze, surrounded by blossomed hope, with child? She is the one, as the Akathist hymn exclaims, through whom joy shall shine forth! Amen.