It seems coincidental, doesn’t it, that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the feast of Christmas fall so close together in the calendar? And yet… if it’s an accident, it’s a particularly happy one. Because the two have much more in common than might generally meet the eye.
We all know the story: On December 9, 1531, an indigenous peasant by the name of Juan Diego saw a vision on a hillside outside Mexico City: a young, dark-skinned woman who spoke Nahuatl, a native language. She instructed Juan Diego to build a shrine. His archbishop, cautious, demanded a sign; the Lady told Juan Diego to fill his poncho with flowers and bring it to the archbishop. The flowers fell to the floor and the fabric showed an imprint of the Lady’s face.
The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, mirroring that of the indigenous people of the time, is a sign of Mary's closeness to marginalized people.
Like Juan Diego, who felt he was of no importance because of his indigenous heritage, marginalized people in today's world are often made to feel worthless by conditions imposed upon them, people who, according to Pope Francis, “often are not treated with dignity and equality of conditions; many women who are excluded because of their sex, race, or socioeconomic situation; young people who receive a poor education and have no opportunities to advance in their studies or to enter into the labor market so as to move ahead and establish a family; many poor people, unemployed, migrants, displaced, landless peasants, who seek to survive on the informal market.”
We have to wonder what the Spanish high society made of the appearance of the Lady. She was dark-skinned, like the indigenous people the Spanish had come to conquer. She appeared, not as one of them nor to one of them, but to a poor farmer, a convert. Many were no doubt scandalized.
And that is what brings us to the Christmas story, for Mary was no stranger to scandal. The courage it took her to say “yes” to the angel, to make such a breathtaking decision at a time when only men made the important decisions, and to know exactly how uncertain the road was before her? This was only the start of the story. St. Luke tells us that Mary then went to visit Elizabeth, where she spoke passionately about—God’s passion for justice.
She risks her very life by saying “yes” to God, knowing her fiancé might never understand, knowing a woman caught in adultery would be stoned. She says yes to an uncertain pregnancy in poverty-stricken circumstances. She says yes to a terrible journey at the end of her pregnancy, to labor and birth in an unhygienic environment, to understanding that the great King Herod wanted nothing more than to see her newborn child dead.
The young woman laying exhausted on the straw in the cave in Bethlehem and Our Lady of Guadalupe who appeared to Juan Diego are the same. Mary is a woman of the people, accustomed to poverty and to hard times. A woman characterized by her unequivocal “yes” in response to God.
Jesus was taught and molded by his mother; he learned from her the values he kept throughout his life, of loving his Father, of saying yes, and of respecting everyone… but especially the poor and marginalized.
Advent is the season that starts with one woman’s courageous voice and carries us through to the glory of angel choirs and the majesty of three mysterious strangers from the East. Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, taught us that we must always start from the manger; and indeed that is where we see Mary at both her most vulnerable and most glorious.
And as we celebrate both the journey of Advent and the appearance at Guadalupe, let’s think about what it is that, this year, God is asking each of us to say “yes” to.