Woman of Tepeyac

For Sunday, 20 December 2020: Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Thirty-nine years after Christopher Columbus made landfall on the island called Guanahani by the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean, the colonizing conquest by the Spanish people of Europe was in full force on Turtle Island (also known as North America). Among the Nahuatl tribe of the Aztec nation, a story began to spread of a Native man who was visited by a pregnant Native woman who spoke the Nahuatl language. Their meeting occurred on a sacred hill in what would later become known as Mexico City. The woman identified herself as Tonantzin which means “our mother” and she requested that a place of worship be built on the site long revered by the Aztec people. Tonantzin become associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her identification with the Native people assured them of God’s blessing and favor in a time of disease, enslavement, and oppression.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Mary of Nazareth is visited by Gabriel, a messenger from the heavenly realm sent by God. Gabriel brings an announcement that is difficult to grasp. The angelic messenger declares that Mary has been chosen by God to become pregnant with a child who will be known as “Son of the Most High God.” Mary is young but she knows where babies come from and respectfully questions Gabriel’s reasoning: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The only comfort she receives is the encouragement to not be afraid because of God’s favor and the assurance that Jesus, her child to be born, is holy.

Mary’s response is diplomatic and as filled with as much faith and trust as one could hope to muster in such a situation. She replies: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Her answer recalls other similar responses in the Gospel of Luke such as when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Luke 11:2-3). Or when Jesus himself prays in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he is to be crucified: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In all three instances, the faithful response to ordinary, sometimes confusing, and even dreadful circumstances is submission to the will of God.

There is a popular prayer in Twelve Step programs of recovery from addiction known as the Serenity Prayer. Composed by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, only a portion of the prayer is usually said. The original prayer in its entirety is:

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”

It is possible to see Mary, as did the Nahuatl people, as the icon of the maternal face of the Father who created and redeemed “people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). May the coming celebration of the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary bring us joy and peace!


Light Testimony

For Sunday, 13 December 2020: John 1:6-8,19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

I have lived in the northern tier states of North Dakota and Minnesota for twenty-six years. On occasion the northern lights of the aurora borealisare visible from this latitude. They appear as a white glow on the northern horizon; sometimes the colors red or green can be seen faintly in the night sky. It was not until I visited an Indigenous community within the Arctic Circle in Alaska, however, that my eyes were truly opened to the wonders of this phenomenon of creation.

We were awakened in the middle of the night by our hosts to come outside and witness the northern lights. I could not believe what I was seeing! There before my very eyes in the cold air, I witnessed what I can only describe as clouds of rainbows moving in slow motion across the sky, ever expanding and contracting, illuminating the dark of night. I was mesmerized, experiencing what was like a Celtic “thin place” where the veil between heaven and earth is reduced.

The Algonquin, a First Nations people of Quebec, tell a story about the aurora borealisas light from a fire made by the Creator. They understand the fire to be the Creator’s way of telling the people that he remembers them and is watching over them. My impulse that night was to bow down in worship. In retrospect, I realized I had merely caught a glimpse of the northern lights in the lower forty-eight. The full glory and brilliance of the aurora borealiswas within the Arctic Circle!

In today’s gospel story, people are curious about who this prophetic baptizer named John truly is. Could he be Elijah, the prophet who had been taken from this world in the whirlwind of a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11) and was to return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5)? Might he even be the Messiah himself? Is John the Light?

John is clear with his interrogators. He is neither Elijah nor the Messiah. Rather, he quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). Furthermore, John says, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” According to the text, John was a man sent from God to testify to the light that was coming after him so that all might believe through that light. Who is the Light, then? According to John, the light is standing among us, but people are not able to see it. Perhaps they are only catching a glimpse of that light and not its full glory and brilliance.

Of course, John the baptizer is pointing to Jesus as “the light.” In this same chapter of the Gospel of John, the narrator declares about Jesus: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:3-5). During this season of preparation, may we grow from glimpses of God’s light in Jesus to apprehension of his true brilliance. Kindle the light of Christ so that it burns brightly in our hearts until the day of his return.



12345678910 ... 1112

The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith is an Assistant Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, an Assisting Bishop in Navajoland and a former bishop of North Dakota. He is in an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.