December 12

Our Lady of Guadalupe

According to later reports, a native in modern day Mexico, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 12, 1531. She ordered the young man to gather roses from the top of a hill and present the roses to the local bishop as proof of the apparition. When Juan Diego placed the winter time roses before the bishop, he opened his cloak. The bishop saw the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe impressed on the cloak.

In the summer of 1975, I traveled to Mexico City in order to see the icon. That visit was a spiritual moment for me, for I could see why the Americas were dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The vision of the poor native would be a sign for and a blessing on all who live in this new land.

First Reading, Option 1: Zechariah 2:14-17 (2:10-13 WEB)

10 Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion; for, behold, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of you,' says YHWH. 11 Many nations shall join themselves to YHWH in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that YHWH of Armies has sent me to you. 12 YHWH will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be silent, all flesh, before YHWH; for he has roused himself from his holy habitation!"

World English Bible

The prophet Zechariah wrote his book as a vision of the end times. The verses above can be found in the third of six visions the prophet received about the Day of the Lord. Clearly, these verses were ones of blessing, but the blessing was not material wealth or political power. The blessing was the presence of God himself.

YHWH addressed Jerusalem as "daughter of Zion." Scholars have debated this phrase since it also appears in other prophetic writings (Jeremiah 6:1-2 and Lamentations 1:6, 7; 2:10, Micah 1:12-13; 4:8, Zephaniah 3:14), but the phrase did seem to denote a special place for the city with God (an intimate father-daughter relationship). Yet, the singing YHWH commanded seemed to indicate the immanent arrival of royalty. With the divine presence at home in the city of David, foreign powers would realign themselves to the Jewish capital; that reorientation would mean inclusion in the people of God. The universal call (2:11) also included a more parochial summons to the Jews (2:12). His presence would signify a renewal of the covenants (for land made to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 and for choice of the nation made on Sinai in Exodus 6:7); the presence of YHWH would also favor the capital of the nation and implicitly its Temple (where he would be enthroned).

The final command was interesting. YHWH ordered universal silence, for he was "awakened" from his heavenly court; this "awakening" or "arousal" was a promise of action. The God of the Jews was known as a deity that acted in history. The call for silence was really a command for attention, so that all could witness the end times. YWHW of the Armies (2:11) would come, live with his people and judge the nations.

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First Reading, Option 2: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab

19 The Temple of God was opened, the (one) in heaven, and the Ark of his Covenant was seen in his Temple, and there was lighting and sounds and thunder and earthquakes and large hail.

12:1 A great sign was seen in the sky, a woman having clothed herself in the sun and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, 2 and having (child) in (her) womb, she cried out, having birth pains and being tormented to give birth. 3 Another sign was seen in the sky; Look! a large, red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems on his heads, 4 and his tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them onto the earth. The dragon stood before the woman, the (one) being about ready to give birth, so that, when she might give birth, her child could be devoured. 5 She gave birth to a son who was about to shepherd every nation with an iron rod. The child was snatched away to God and his throne. 6 The woman fled into the desert, where she had there a place having been prepared by God, so that they might feed her one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

10 I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now (they) have come, the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ..."

11:19 "there was lighting and sounds and thunder and earthquakes and large hail" many of these items were signs of God's presence (Exodus 19:16; 1 Kings 19:11-12 expressed the opposite).

12:2-3 "sky" is literally "heaven." The context argues for a distinction between the dwelling place of God and the area above the earth. Otherwise, how could the cosmic struggle described in these verses occur in God's presence?

12:3 "ten horns" Each head had ten horns. This reflected Daniel 7:7, 20.

"seven diadems" A "diadem" was a head ornament that indicated a lesser authority than that of a crown. In other words, the dragon's intention to devour the heir to the woman's place (i.e., her "crown") was an act of cosmic rebellion.

12:4 "his tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven" The stars mentioned in this verse represented the lesser spiritual powers that the ancients believed existed between God and humanity.

12:5 "who was about to shepherd every nation with an iron rod" The iron rod indicated a strong, even ruthless rule that would dominate the political landscape. The verb "to shepherd" can also mean "to smash." See Psalm 2:9

12:6 "one thousand two hundred and sixty days" was equivalent to forty four months that Gentiles would trample the Temple in Jerusalem (11:2) and the two witnesses would prophesy (11:3). In other words, the new mother would rest during the troubled times of the Tribulation.

This reading begins with the opening of the heavenly Temple and the revelation of the Ark. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the immediate presence of God, for in it lie the Ten Commandments and other artifacts from the Exodus. Just as God was with his people in the journey, he dwelt in the symbol of that journey. In the Temple at Jerusalem, the Ark lie in the Holy of Holies, a room hidden from the view of the worshipers. Only the High Priest could go before the Ark, and only on the Day of Atonement. But in this scene, the Ark was revealed to all. The sights and sounds recorded (thunder, lightning, earthquakes, heavy hail) signified and heightened the theophany.

The opening of the Temple paralleled the next scene, vision of the pregnant Queen in heaven. The idea of the heavenly woman rang true in Greek and Hebrew contexts. The Greeks had the story of the Olympian queen Leto giving birth to Apollo, their sun god. Micah saw Jerusalem as a woman in the midst of birth pains (4:10). The birth moment of the Queen and the presence of her nemesis, the dragon, clearly recalled the temptation of Eve by the serpent and God's curse upon the serpent in Genesis 3: 15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." The dragon wished to be pro-active and consume the boy before the young one could defeat his opponent, as foretold in God's curse. This was not to be. The boy was rescued and secured in the heavenly court. The woman escaped into the safety of God's presence (represented by the oasis in the desert that God provided her).

Notice the Temple-Ark parallel with the Queen-Messiah. Just as the Temple was opened to reveal the Ark, the Queen gave birth to reveal the Messiah. The Temple/Queen contained the presence of God (Ark/Messiah); the opening/birth was the point of revelation.

The difference between the two events lie the presence of the Evil (the dragon) ready to do battle at this point of revelation. In fact, the dragon presented himself in an uprising of cosmic proportions. By sweeping the spiritual powers toward earth (toppling their power and exiling them to the level of humanity), the dragon was ready to usurp divine power itself. By consuming the boy, the dragon would claim the heavenly crown with all its rights. It would trade its many diadems (representing lesser power) for THE prize. But even at the point of revelation (and possible destruction), God would intervene. Just as the opening of the Temple had its sights and sounds of divine power, so would the rescue of the Messiah and his mother. The voice would declare the presence of God in his salvation, his power, his Kingdom, and in the authority of this Son.

On a symbolic level, the early Church identified itself with the heavenly Queen. It also identified the mother of Jesus as the heavenly Queen. After all, Mary was the first believer in the Good News. So, she was the first member of the Church. As the proto-member, she represents all who followed her, as disciples of her Son. If the Church saw itself in the cosmic struggle with the Evil One to make the Messiah present to the world, it could also see its first member in that role. It is no wonder that, by the time Constantine freed the Church from persecution, believers pictured Mary as the Queen of Revelation 12.

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Psalm Response:  Judith 13:18bcde, 19

18 O daughter, blessed are you of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed is the Lord God, who has created the heavens and the earth, who guided you in cutting off the head of the chief of our enemies. 19 Because of this, your resoluteness will not depart from the heart of men, who will remember the power of God for ever.

World English Bible

The book of Judith was the story of a Jewish maiden who beheaded an enemy general while he slept in his tent. Judith returned the head of the general to Jerusalem. Judith was praised for her act of bravery in in the verses above.

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Gospel, Option 1:  Luke 1:26-38

26 But, in the sixth month (of Elizabeth's pregnancy), the angel Gabriel was sent by God into the city of Galilee, which (had) the name Nazareth, 27 to a virgin having been betrothed to a man who (had) the name Joseph out of the house of David, and the name of the virgin (was) Mary. 28 And having entered toward her, he said, "Rejoice, (girl) having been favored. The Lord is with you." 29 But she was troubled by his words, and wondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Don't fear, Mary, for you have found favor from God. 31 And, look, you will conceive in (your) womb, and you will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 This (boy) will be great and will be called Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule (as a king) over the house of Jacob into (every) age, and of his kingdom will not be an end." 34 But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know man." 35 Having answered, the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. And, so the one being born will be called holy and the Son of God. 36 And, look, Elizabeth, your relative! She has conceived a son in her old age and this month is the sixth to her, the one being called sterile. 37 For nothing whatever will be impossible with God. 38 But Mary said, "Look, the servant of the Lord! May it happen to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

1:27 The word "betrothed" is preferred over "engaged" since the marriage was arranged. Engagement implies the couple took the initiative in the marriage, not the parents.

1:28 "Rejoice . . . " was the typical Greek greeting for the time; however, it can be interpreted as a command to receive Good News. (girl) was added since the participle "having been favored" was female in gender. Gabriel obvious announced Mary was honored by God.

1:29 " . . . by his words . . . " is literally " . . . in the word . . . "

1:32 " . . . he will be called . . . " This refers to God's calling. God himself will give Mary's son a title of great honor, Son of God. With the title came the throne of David's house.

1:34 "How can this be . . . " is literally "How will this be . . . " The meaning between the phrases is the same. "I do not know man" means "I have not had sexual experience with any man." First century Palestinians equated knowledge with experience.

1:37 The phrase is literally "Because nothing whatever will not be unable from God." The double negative "not . . . impossible" cancel each other.

In this gospel reading, we read Luke's proclamation of the Good News to the first Christian.

Luke has a different world view than his contemporaries. While the evangelist was very well educated (reflected in his well-written, upper class Greek), his concern lay with the rejected. Luke saw society's helpless (the homeless, the outcast, and the reformed sinners) as the truly honorable people in the sight of God. In this sense, Luke painted the helpless as God's children; these icons shattered any standards of "proper" society. The poor, the outcast, and the sinner should be placed on the pedestal, for they were God's own.

Luke contrasted two characters in chapter one to make his point. In Luke 1:5-25, the angel Gabriel proclaimed the Good News to Zechariah, father of the Baptist. Here was a temple priest encountering God in the very place Jews believed God dwelt, the Temple of Yahweh in the City of David. (See Isaiah 6 for the classic encounter with God in the Temple). As a male who knew the Law thoroughly, and as a priest in the act of divine worship, Zechariah symbolized Judaism in action. Yet, when the Good News was proclaimed to him, he failed to believe the power of the Almighty. He would be the father of a great prophet, the one who would prepare for the Messiah. For his incredulous attitude, Zechariah was struck dumb. He would not be the instrument of proclamation. God would use another.

Next, the angel approached a maiden to proclaim the Good News. For Luke, the gospel did not start in the place (the Temple in Jerusalem) and to the people (the hierarchy of Judaism represented by the priest) everyone expected. No, the gospel began in a place (a backwater town despised by the cosmopolitan inhabitants of Jerusalem) and to a person (a young teenage girl) no one expected.

Let's consider the place of girls like Mary in social pecking order of first century Palestine. In a gender segregated, male dominated society, young girls like Mary were sheltered from the outside world, in order to protect their virginity and insure the honor of the family. (The murder of promiscuous or raped young girls by family members was not uncommon; the reason for such homicides was family honor.) It was inconceivable that young girls could lead the people in such a public function as temple worship.

In addition to family honor, young girls were not educated. Literacy lay with the male, since females were considered too inferior and emotional for education. (How could Mary know the Scriptures like Zechariah? Remember that women had no rights in ancient society; they were treated like property.) Girls symbolized by Mary stood at the bottom of proper society.

When the angel greeted Mary, she reacted in an appropriate social manner. Confronted in private, Mary wondered why she was greeted (young girls were considered to be too insignificant to greet). She also feared from the implications of the greeting. (Were her honor and the honor of her family compromised?) [1:29] The news would not get better for her. The angel proposed a conception and birth that could endanger her arranged marriage with Joseph and put her life at risk. (According to Deuteronomy 22:20-21, a girl who was not a virgin before marriage could be stoned to death. No wonder she defended her honor!) [1:34]

To overcome Mary's concern, the angel proclaimed her honor before God. She was highly favored by the Almighty. [1:28, 30]. And her son would by highly favored by God, for God would give him a title, and intimate relationship, and royal power over his people that would never end. [1:32-33]. Notice God gave her honor with his presence [1:28b] and with a mission [1:31]. The Lord would also honor her when he was present to her child and gave him a mission. (In ancient society, women could not have honor on their own; they could only stand in the honor of their husbands and sons. Hence, there was the important connection between Mary's honor and that of her Son.)

Gabriel announced the conception and birth of royalty. Mary's child would be "great" (as unique and history changing, like Alexander the "Great"). He would be Son of the "Most High" (a title for the greatest God, the highest concept of divinity one could have. The title "Son of" indicated a unique, intimate relationship with this highest God and a sharing in this God's power). He would have the Davidic throne of Israel forever. [1:32]

Faced with the objection of virgin, the angel reasserted her honor and that of her child. She would encounter (the Holy Spirit) and receive the protection of her true husband, God himself. (The wife lived under the "shadow" of her spouse. Mary would live under the shadow of the Most High). Her Son would have the titles of "holy" (in this case, equivalent to the word "great") and "Son of God." [1:35] Notice, God took the initiative in this announcement. He would impregnate the virgin. He would call her Son his own (see the passive voice ("he will be called") of Gabriel's announcements in 1:32a and 1:35b).

To reassure Mary, the angel announced the pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth. An elderly woman believed to be barren, Elizabeth could be paralleled with Hannah, the elderly mother of Samuel, last and greatest of the Judges (see 1 Samuel 1). If God could make the sterile fruitful, certainly he could father a king through a lowly country girl. [1:36]

Mary had no way out. The angel had upheld her honor in the face of future gossip; her honor would come from God, not from petty humans. Her son would be the Messiah; she would share in his honor. And, the impossible would take place within her elderly relative and her own womb. But she did not merely give in. Mary proclaimed her status as a daughter of Israel (Look, the servant of the Lord!) as much as Gabriel proclaimed her conception and pregnancy of Elizabeth. [1:31, 36, 38]

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Gospel, Option 2: Luke 1:39-56

39 Having stood up, Mary, in these days, traveled with haste into the hill country, into a city of Judah, 40 entered the house of Zechariah, and greeted Elizabeth. 41 It happened (that), as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she shouted a great cry and said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 From where (was) this (encounter) to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? 44 Look! For, as the sound of your greeting happened in my ears, the babe in my womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred in exaltation. 45 Happy is the one having trusted that there will be fulfillment to the (words) having been spoken to her from the Lord."

1:39 "having stood up" The verb "stand up" in Greek was used as a code word for resurrection. As it was used in this participle, the verb indicated the beginning of a motion. In other words, Mary stood up with the intention to travel. In the context (after the Annunciation), however, it was the Spirit who "raised Mary up" and sent her on her way. Like many other references in the Gospel, the act of faith changed the person (spiritual "resurrection") and sent them on a journey (a mission).

1:41 Mary's greeting catalyzed two simultaneous events: the stirring of John and the indwelling of the Spirit. In other words, Mary (under the influence of the Spirit) greeted Elizabeth. The Spirit entered Elizabeth and her babe (John) for the purpose of prophecy. John would prophesy for the Messiah; his mother would speak in a way to foreshadow that prophesy. As Elizabeth acknowledged Mary as the mother of the Messiah, so the elderly mother's son would point to the girl's son as Lord.

1:42 "Blessed . . . blessed" is literally "well spoken of." The person pronouncing the blessing was God, not Elizabeth. Her shout of greeting was prophetic. It revealed the stature of Mary and her son. It was not a prayer of blessing upon Mary.

1:43 "From where (was) this (encounter) to me" is loosely "why have I been honored..." In a society that measured honor by age, the reversal (the older was honored by the younger) could only come from God. (The technique turning social norms upside-down was typical of Luke.)

1:45 "Happy" is sometimes translated "blessed." Unlike the prophecy of 1:42, this sentence is phrased in the same way as a Beatitude. In other words, Elizabeth stated the source of Mary's happiness was her faith.

In his Infancy narrative, Luke turned tradition upside down when he portrayed the matriarch of Zechariah's clan honor the younger relative, Mary. This turn of events was based upon the movement of the Spirit and the status of the mothers' children. The elderly Elizabeth had the prophet of the Messiah in her womb, while the younger Mary was pregnant with the Christ himself.

Luke painted the scene of greeting as an opportunity for prophecy by Elizabeth, who declared the blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed because of her maternity and God's favor. She derived her status because her faith and because of the importance of her son. (In a male dominated, gender segregated society, women derived their status based upon the social and economic importance of males in their lives: fathers, husbands, and sons.)

Mary would respond to Elizabeth's blessing with a prayer of praise for her new status.

46 Mary said:

My soul makes the Lord great,
47 and my spirit is glad in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked upon the lowly state of his servant.
For, Look! from now on all generations will call me happy,
49 that the Powerful (One) has done great (things) for me, 'Holy' is his name,
50 and his compassion (is) on generation and (following) generation,
to the (ones) fearing him.
51 He did a mighty deed with his arm,
he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts.
52 He torn powerful (men) down from (their) thrones,
and elevated the lowly in station;
53 (those) hungering he satisfied with good (things),
and (those) being rich he sent away hungry.
54 He grasped (to help) Israel, his (chosen) boy servant,
to remember his (past) mercy,
55 just as he told our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed, unto the (eternal) age."

56 Mary stayed with her for three months, and she returned to her house.

1:46-47 "soul makes...great...spirit is glad" Some biblical scholars make a distinction between soul and spirit. The soul was seen as the seat of one's inner life (which felt emotion); the spirit was seen as the God-given spark of life that insured the soul's survival. But, in practical terms, the two phrases expressed the same idea: Mary was overjoyed by God's blessing. So, this introduction contained a poetic redundancy.

1:49 "Powerful One...'Holy'" Both titles for God refer to the same idea, God is totally Other, the Transcendent One. This was another case of poetic redundancy.

1:51 "he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts" This confusing phrase can more easily understood as: "God scattered the arrogant because of the way their hearts understand." The context of the next two verses make this phrase clear: God would turn the world of the arrogant upside down. The rulers would become the ruled. The rich would become the new poor. Future circumstances would change the way these people would feel about themselves and their world.

1:56 "house" was the same as "family."

Mary began the Magnificat with a song of joy. God had decided to use a lowly handmaiden to fulfill his will. His activity in Mary's life was a reason for praise and was seen as an act of divine power. This line of reasoning paralleled Luke''s view of the crucifixion. Jesus died a shameful death in the eyes of his contemporaries, yet, in the eyes of the faithful, his lowly death was a mighty act of God. After all, just as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life, so the death pangs of Jesus gave way to the glory of the resurrection. The pregnancy of Mary was the first step in God's immediate plan for salivation.

What would that pregnancy mean to Israel? Mary's song listed two results: a sign of the faithfulness to the people and justice. God would change (even invert) the world order. The rich and powerful would be humbled. And the poor would be exalted. How? Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life would mark the beginning of the end time, when divine justice would reign and God would bless even the forgotten among the people. In the end, God would keep his promises.

So, Mary had reason for joy. Her status was not based upon local opinion, but upon her place in God's plan. She was the first to accept the Good News at the Annunciation. Now she was an instrument of God's will and power. For that reason, her reputation would spread from generation to generation. She would be the mother of the Savior. And, the Mother of God!

Our Lady of Guadalupe inspires everyone with a Marian devotion because of her place in the new world and the symbols the icon possesses. The environs might be the "New World", but the symbols spoke to the end times in Revelation. She is mother to believers in the Americas and to all, for she gave birth to the Son of Man who will return in power on the clouds.

How does the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe speak to you? How do the story of Juan Diego and the symbols on the icon inspire you?