In our part of Southwestern Pennsylvania we are blessed to have as friends and neighbors many in the Eastern Rite Churches, with a strong Ruethenian Byzantine Catholic presence. Thus we know the beauty and the meaning of an icon. In the Eastern Churches there are few if any statues. Most of the sacred images are in the form of an icon, a painting in stylized form that portrays the heavenly mysteries.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of a primary icon of Advent, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last Saturday we looked to her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Saint Anne, and embraced her as the patron of the United States of America. Today we look at the patroness of all of the Americas in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This feast, celebrating the appearance of Mary as a young native girl with child to Juan Diego, a convert to Christianity, was an important moment in God's plan. The fact that she appeared to a peasant, a native of the place and not to the ruling class or the upper crust was shocking. The fact that her image was that of a native person rather than that of a Spanish maiden was even more shocking. The fact that she appears to be carrying her child in the womb was unexpected. All of this happened in the 1500's in Mexico. And because of the shocking and unexpected nature of the apparition, countless people came to embrace Our Lady of Guadalupe and more importantly the Son that she brought into the world.
An icon is an image. This image of Mary presented to us is an Advent reminder that ALL are called to the Son of Mary, that ALL are equal in the eyes of God, that ALL are pregnant with hope and anticipation of salvation and new life, and that the message of the Christ is not reserved for a few but meant for ALL. She is an invitation to life.
The other primary icon of Advent is our friend, John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, the one called the baptist. He too points the way and makes known the savior. He too calls us to repentance and a change of heart so that we might live in Christ. He is an invitation to life.
And that is what Advent is ... a time of realizing who we are in Christ, of realizing the need for repentance and conversion, and a time of hearing in our own lives and becoming for others "an invitation to life". Thank God for these two tremendous icons of Advent.