In December of 1531 Juan Diego, a peasant in Mexico, recounted four miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary, coming to him at random times and in random places. In these visions Mary was speaking to Juan Diego in his native indigenous tongue, Nahuatl. She pleaded with him to build a church there, and repeated this plea with each visit.
Now, visions and “holy” glimpses like these four dot the religious timeline, even perhaps all the way back to Moses and the bush that refused to be consumed in the early chapters of the Book of Exodus.
But what made this particular visit notable, and why I bring it up on this day when many Christians around the world honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, is because I think the best thing about this account isn’t the visitation itself, but the way it happened.
Mary, in these visions, spoke to Juan Diego not in the popular Spanish of the day, the language of the dominating empire, and not in the formal Latin of the church.
Mary didn’t even speak to Juan Diego in her own native tongue, Aramaic!
No. She spoke to him in the language of his heart, his mother tongue, his (oppressed and silenced) native voice: Nahuatl.
Now, whether you believe he actually saw anything at all or not, it’s worth lifting up the power of believing that the Divine speaks in your oppressed voice and not in the voice of your oppressor. Those who venerate Mary on this day do so not chiefly because she came from God to see them, but because she came and stood with them against the oppressive voices of the conquering soldiers and, yes, the conquering church of those days.
She was on the picket-line with them.
She was in the paddy-wagon with them, arrested for being who they are.
She was screaming “I can’t breathe!” with them in the streets of Minneapolis.
Do you see?
In the middle-days of Advent the church honors the coming Christ, yes. But through this unique festival the church offers a preview of how this Divine-one will show up again: not in the clouds with might, but in a gush of blood and water to stand with those who are made up of mostly blood and water against the forces of the world who parade around as Divine themselves.
Faith, I’ve found…my faith…is more earthy than heavenly. I wonder if that’s how the Divine intended it.
Beloved, what is the language of your heart? Can you hear the emissaries of the Divine speaking to you in that voice, using those words? Can you, in your quieted pandemic days, in your Advent waiting, see the vision of a God who shows up with humanity, not just for it?
Add Leigh Nash’s “Maybe this Christmas” to your Advent playlist as she ponders that, perhaps this Christmas (and we need it this year!) we might hear the Divine calling to us in a new way, perhaps even in a new, yet familiar, voice.