Today is the 3rd Advent, it is Gaudete Sunday or Rose Sunday and it is St. Lucia’s Feast Day. Yesterday was the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.; and many congregations are celebrating this day today.
Our lectionary readings offer lessons to reflect on least these four different experiences or moods for today. I’m going to briefly describe these four different expressions of the season and then we can reflect on where we find ourselves today and how we are moving towards the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Let’s start with the experience of Advent overall. Advent is a time of preparation. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is observed as a time of fasting and penitence. It’s not really a time of waiting, but more a time of preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world. Our readings have been preparing us for the coming of Jesus. We’ve had readings from the Old Testament prophets—from Jeremiah on First Advent we heard “the days are surely coming when the lord will execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Then we heard from the prophet Baruch, the promise, “For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” And then finally today, we hear in the Gospel that John the Baptist is preaching “one who is more powerful than I is coming”.
We’ve talked about how the prophets are looking forward to a time of righteousness, a time of justice. There will be a time when God’s Kingdom comes here on earth. This is the time when People will respond to God’s promises, creating justice in our world, ensuring that all people will share in God’s bounty.
We have been observing this aspect of the season as we have expanded our outreach ministries. We’ve participated twice this month in the Interfaith Street Chaplaincy Dinner. We’ve donated raingear to Ritter House. We’ve been making breakfast for the Alternative High School. We’ve been praying with the prisoners in San Quentin. We’re sending cards and we’re holding hope, we’re imagining a world in which the prisoners are set free and all suffering is ended.
Over the past three weeks here at Nativity, Rev. Rebecca and I have not particularly focused on our individual penitence, but we have collectively focused on healing the world. We are part of social structures—systems of laws and practices that are unjust and we are part of the vision and practice that will change these injustices and fulfill the promise of the prophets. This is the preparation of Advent. We’re deep in the work of Advent, we are not yet experiencing the joy of the coming of Christ. You’ll notice that we don’t have our usual flowers during Advent. This is part of our observance of the penitential mood of Advent. We have changed our prayers—using a Kyrie instead of a song of praise at the opening of the liturgy. We have been using the contemporary confession, using these new words as a way to change and deepen our experience of the community confession.But today, Rose Sunday we have a break in our Advent experience. Rose Sunday is also known as Refreshment Sunday. It’s a day when the traditional rule of fasting is relaxed. It is also known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians we hear the opening of our introit—“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” The reminder is that while there is preparatory work to do, God is always with us. We’re not alone or only left to our human devices. God is close, caring for us and hoping with us. We have changed the color of the candle in our Advent wreath as a liturgical symbol of this pre-figuration of the joy that is to come. It’s not that we’re going to stop our preparation, but we are going to take a breath and refresh ourselves, celebrate just a little because we know that our work with God is “bearing fruit of repentence”.
Somehow this sense of light, or joy in the midst of our Advent preparation is also captured in the festival of St. Lucia. St Lucy was martyred in the 4th century. She was one of the Christians killed as part of the Diocletian Persecution (also known as the Great Persecution). This was time when Roman Emperors were requiring that all citizens worship the Roman Gods. Christians who refused to comply were martyred. St. Lucia is known for her faithful life, a life of purity and care for the poor. Some of the legends about Lucy suggest that her eyes were gouged out as part of her martyrdom. Other sources suggest that she is the patron saint of the blind because her feast day, today, Decmeber 13th was traditionally the shortest day of the year—they day when light begins to return and the days grow longer. St. Lucy’s day is celebrated in Sweden and other Scandanavian countries and in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. In Scandanavia, the celebration includes a young girl dressing in white with a red sash. This girl is called Lucy for the day and leads a procession wearing a crown with candles on it. The candles are symbols of the light coming into the world.
With that theme of light we can think about coming out of the dark winter. We can think about Jesus the light of the world. We can think about the wise men following the star of Bethlehem. As we light our advent candles, we mark the passage of time as we prepare for Christmas.
And then just one more Saint to discuss, the Virgin of Guadalupe. You may have seen images of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico or in Mexican people’s homes or shops. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared as a vision to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531. In his vision, the Virgin told Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and ask that a shrine be built on the hill. Juan did as he was told, but the Bishop did not believe him. So Juan Diego went back to the shrine three more times, each time the Virgin appeared to him. The virgin promised that Juan Diego’s very sick uncle would be cured, and his uncle was restored from near death. When Juan Diego was trying to convince the Bishop of the truth of his vision, the virgin directed Juan Diego to gather Castillian roses from a nearby hill. It was winter and there shouldn’t have been any flowers, but Juan Diego did as he was told and filled his cloak with roses that he then delivered to the Bishop. When the Bishop took the roses out of the cloak, underneath was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, just as Juan Diego had described her.
The Bishop did as he was asked and built a shrine on the hill. The Virgin was canonized and ultimately Juan Diego was also canonized. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the Patron Saint of the America’s. She is said to have brought victory to the Mexican army in the Mexican American war. She is recognized as the patron saint of the peasants.
While we don’t recognize saints as intercessors for our prayers, we do acknowledge that saints, like the Virgin of Guadalupe as important for us because of how they add to our story of God’s work in the world. In this case, faithful people all over the world have gone to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She has helped to build up the faith of the Christian community in Mexico and has given hope to many poor people there and around the world. The Virgin of Guadalupe’s healing miracles have also built up the community and given hope to people who have exhausted all other treatments. Whether or not you believe that this miracle “actually happened”, the power of this vision is real. Through the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, God has been at work with the poorest people in Mexico and throughout the world.
I want to point out how rich our liturgy is, how remarkable that we have an opportunity to engage in so many different stories and images and moods all at once. Today, we can focus on our Advent preparations. We can pause for “Refreshment Sunday, and take in the reminder that we can always rejoice in God’s presence with us. We can look towards the light of St. Lucia, remembering her faith and her martyrdom. She is a model of faithful discipleship and a symbol of hope. We can lift up the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding the miracle of her appearance and her healing work as a sign of light in a world that continues to leave some people impoverished and oppressed. We can follow her example as we seek to be evangelists of the Gospel.
As we move towards Christmas over this next week, our prayers and our work together and individually may bring us to any one, or all of these experiences. You may find that Paul’s reminder to the Philippians to rejoice is just the message you need. You may find the Virgin of Guadalupe an inspiration as we seek to invite new people into our Christian worship. You may take special comfort in the story of St. Lucia as we remember that she died because she held her faith above all worldly commitments. She gave to the poor, and by so doing challenged the Roman authorities.
As we prepare our homes and our church, as we prepare gifts for family and friends, as we lean towards the celebration of Christmas, the winter solstice and the New Year, let us pray with our Saints, let us rejoice in God’s presence with us, and let us continue our preparations to reap the fruits of repentence, responding to God’s call for righteousness here now. Amen.