St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Monday, December 12, 2022
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “La morenita”, the brown-skinned Nahaitl-speaking Mary. For many Mexicans and others from Latin America, December’s Advent is a month to wait for the coming of “God who is with us” – and to remember that whenever God comes, God looks like us – whoever the “us” is.
It is important for westerners whose images of Jesus and of Mary tend to be made by European artists, reflecting their own experience of God coming among them – that among every people group in the world, not just westerners, those who come to know the Lord Jesus see him as they are.
That might not be historically accurate, but it is spiritually right. That’s why I don’t care if the European Mary is blond – or that the Japanese Mary has almond eyes, or that an African Mary has rich, dark skin. In every time and in every place, people see Jesus – who comes by way of Mary – in their own skin, space and time. And they should. God is always coming, to people everywhere – in their own languages, cultures, dress, and in the very flesh of each.
But what is her story?
According to long and unbroken tradition, in 1531, a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to Juan Diego Cuahlatoatzin, a humble native person at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City.
She identified herself as the mother of Jesus, who is the Lord of heaven and earth and made a request for a church to be built on the site, a message which Juan Diego relayed to the bishop.
When he hesitated, not sure whether to believe or not, the “Lady” sent Juan Diego to the top of the hill in mid-December to gather roses for the bishop. Since it was impossible for them to bloom at that time, the bishop finally believed. When he hesitated, not sure whether to believe or not, the “Lady” sent Juan Diego to the top of the hill in mid-December to gather roses for the bishop. Since it was impossible for them to bloom at that time, the bishop finally believed.
She also left an image of herself imprinted on the cloak in which Juan Diego carried the roses. That cloak was made of poor quality cactus cloth which normally decays in only a few years. However it still shows no sign of decay 476 years later. Scientists have not been able to explain this. Make of it what you will. In her words, Our Lady of Guadalupe claimed justice for the people of Mexico, raising up those who were oppressed and the poor as Jesus himself did in the Biblical accounts. The church was built – and her imprinted image remains there, visible. It is one of the great pilgrimage sites – and no, she isn’t worshiped. God alone is worshiped and adored. But she is loved. That image shows a native, pregnant woman – signified by her black belt – Mary, like Jesus himself, is one of us – like us.
You, Lady of dark visage,
Warm mother of the earth-in-sky,
Radiant as the sun,
Standing on the moon.
Scoop up your children of Earth’s rich color who grapple with the earthly chores
All for our comfort ad joy.
Fold them into your mother’s embrace.Hold them safe.
Teach us all to hold holy Your Son-under-our feet. Amen