Oh, to go back in time and redo something! You've all seen the car insurance ads on TV where you witness an accident, and then all of a sudden time stops and begins to run backward, and bit by bit everything gets put back as it was? Then the sales-pitch tells you that this insurance agency will make everything like it was before. We've all had that feeling when you start to get that queasy feeling in your stomach about all the headaches to come. Oh, if we could only... In one of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis, Aslan, the lion that represents Christ, says to the one of the children who was feeling precisely this way, “We're never told what would might have been." The message is clear: What happened, happened. There may be a second chance, but it is a second chance, not a first. Each and every event has its place in the fabric of time.
This is not bad news, Or even just depressing news. It is really good news. The redemption of time is not going back to redo it, it's drawing even greater truth, justice, love and grace out of the mess that we made than could ever have happened before.
Such a time might have been the 4th decade of the 16th century in south-central Mexico. The year is 1531, it is 10 years after the clash of worlds in which the Aztecs, the most powerful nation in Central America at the time, fell rather precipitously to the superior weaponry and underhanded ways of the Spaniards under Cortez. The Spaniards quickly replaced one bloody and cruel regime with another bloody and cruel regime. They imposed a foreign rule, a foreign tongue and a foreign God. Such was the suppression of the Aztec that it was not unknown for a young Spaniard to try the edge of his sword on a whim on the body of a hapless passing Indian surf with fatal results with no legal consequences whatsoever. Mass baptisms of thousands at once subjugated everyone to a new form of religion that kept the moneyed and powerful at the top of the heap. It was just not a good day to be an Indian. I wonder how many of them wished they could turn the clock back 10 years and do things differently!
Into this scenario comes a most wondrous gift. I will not walk through the story in detail, you have an insert in your bulletin for that. But to summarize quickly, Juan Diego, a pious Indian, is headed to church one dawn, and goes by the hill of Tepeyac, one-time sacred site to the Aztec. On the top of the hill he hears singing, and turns to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary, her glow set all the rocks and plants of the hill to shining in rainbow colors. She beckons him come up, in his own native tongue, and he does. She speaks words of kindness and love, identifies herself as the Virgin Mary, and then sends him to the Bishop to ask for a church on that site. What a fool’s errand: An Indian asking the Bishop for a church! Out of the frying pan, into the fire!
This season our theme is expectancy. Expectancy waits with open heart and hopeful spirit for the working of God. In spite of setbacks and opposition, in the final show-down Juan Diego takes roses the lady has given him in his "tilma" or poncho to the Bishop,
And when he spills them on the floor of the Bishop's audience hall the image of Guadalupe is emblazoned upon it. The Bishop sees the miracle and immediately is converted. He orders the church be built the very next day. Notice a most wondrous thing, and for me the most significant thing that happens. The Bishop takes orders from the Indian. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The poor find justice and the powerful find mercy. Expectancy pays off in spades! The question of historicity aside, you see why I like this story! It is an extended parable about liberation and human dignity, not unlike the American Revolution.
And this is the wonder of the expectancy of Advent: Expectancy watches to see how God will take our mess-ups and our problems and our sin, and bring out glory and justice and peace and grace, redeeming the time and redeeming the acts.
Things are what they are. We can have all the expectations we want about them, try to force our preconceived ideas upon them, pushing and managing others into playing out our scripts for them, and end up deeply disappointed in the end, or we can live in expectancy rather than expectation. It is a silly little play on words, but let it symbolize the difference between a willful imposing of our own wills on our world, and a willingness to let the will of God manifest itself in surprising and powerful ways. Expectancy watches for how God might do something unexpected, find a way that does not leave winners and losers, but justice and mercy for all.
We would all like to be like Juan Diego, but in reality we sit more easily in the Bishop's chair. We wield resources most of the rest of the world will never dream of seeing. We have opportunities for influence that most do not have. But in many ways the Bishop is the hero. He converts, he changes, he switches from expectation to expectancy, and then he looks for ways to share in what the Spirit is doing. Expectancy watches for ways the Spirit is showing up in win-win situations. It is not concerned with preserving one's place or making a name for oneself. It is concerned only with discovering the movement of the Spirit. It draws its inspiration from John the Baptist, who came, as we see in today's Gospel, as a herald of the Messiah, one who notices, and points excitedly to what the Spirit is doing, and then steps in to fulfill his part in it.
In the end the words of Isaiah apply to us all: The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because He has anointed us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor!
I know that only the most ambitious of you all have all your Christmas shopping done. Few of us need more “stuff,” many in the world need basic necessities for justice and human dignity. In response, many people now give alternative gifts at Christmas. Through Heifer International you can give a flock of geese for $20. A water buffalo goes for $250. What is the Spirit nudging you to do? Maybe alternative giving is not for you. The question still stands, What wonderful unexpected surprise awaits you as you follow His lead? How can you make the Kingdom come?