by Bishop Joensen | December 19, 2022
For folks ranging from baby boomers to Gen. Z’ers, the death of Fleetwood Mac songstress Christine McVie this November concluded a stellar chapter of pop music that for a while ruled the the airwaves and was etched in the consciousness of many. For example, the soaring chorus of McVie’s song, “Everywhere” has people humming their way along the road in a recent Chevy commercial, whether they know the words or not: “Oh, I . . . I want to be with you everywhere” [emphasis added].
Advent will soon deliver us an encounter with the Christ Child. I suggest there are deeper streams of music flowing between heaven and earth that should resonate in our souls and claim our attention long after these four weeks conclude. Grace-filled soloist and chorus link the “Oh” and “everywhere” long before McVie and company were inspired by their musical muse.
First, there is lead artist the Blessed Virgin Mary in her lyric appearance in 1531 to the indigenous St. Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, in what is now modern Mexico. After reassuring the startled Juan of her tender maternal love, she identifies herself and the pervasive presence of her Son: “You should know, my beloved son, that I am the ever-virgin Mary, the mother of the true God, the Author of life, the Creator of all being, the Author of heaven and earth, who is everywhere.” For a poor people dominated by their Spanish colonizers and feeling abandoned by the Aztec gods to whom their sacrifices were of no avail, these words were music to their ears.
They were an answer to prayers even for their first local bishop, Friar Juan de Zumárraga, who saw how the oppression and injustices visited upon the native people would pose a looming obstacle to the mission of spreading the Gospel. For why would men and women be drawn to a Church aspiring to enfold the whole world with the message of Jesus Christ, to be truly catholic, if the public profile of those who represent Mary’s Son was so harsh and unattractive?
Mary miraculously impresses her image on Juan’s tilma, and comes to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She softens the severe and mistaken profile of a God who merely traffics in power and politics. She shows herself to be the Mother who never forsakes her children, with a special place in her heart for those who have yet to embrace her Son in faith.
She carried the Author of life, the Creator of all being, in her womb, and hastened to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Even today, she speeds quickly along the desert way to those whose “Oh’s” and “O’s” are more cries of lament than of wonder. Their sentiments are captured well by the late Nobel laureate, Czesław Miłosz in his poem “O!”, inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting, “A Hotel Room”:
O what sadness unaware that it’s sadness!
What despair that doesn’t know it’s despair!
A businesswoman, her unpacked suitcase on the floor, sits on a bed half undressed, in red underwear, her hairdo irreproachable; she has a piece of paper in her hand, probably with numbers.
Who are you? Nobody will ask. She doesn’t know either.
The exclamation “Oh my God!” (OMG!)—and I’m not referring to last year’s pop song by Adele, which is a recipe for despair—can convey different meanings: a spontaneous reaction at being caught off guard; dismay at a disappointment that runs counter to our preferences; or appreciative wonder when something we experience exceeds all our hopes and dreams, to name a few. For persons steeped in weary disappointment, or worse, depression, Mary incorporates their sour groans and moans when they feel that mercy is far removed, and that God is either angry or unaware of their plight. Loneliness can seem so thick in the night, when the dawning daystar has yet to appear. But Mary helps transpose the minor keys of Advent into the major melodies of Christmas.
This year, with a full four weeks of Advent, let’s be especially careful to not fast forward the soundtrack of the season to cheery pop holiday tunes that have little to do with the mystery unfolding before us. We accompany Mary as she composes our humanity with God’s divinity by pondering, praying, and singing the proper “O’s” the Church supplies: the “O” antiphons slotted for Dec. 17-23. Most of us know by heart the timeless tune, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” with its haunting strains capturing our longing for a Savior. But the six days’preceding antiphons help round out the full identity and gift of the One who comes to us: “O Wisdom; O Lord; O Root of Jesse; O Key of David; O Dayspring; O King of Nations.” More complete versions of these antiphons may be found at: https://www.usccb.org/prayers/o-antiphons-advent. Only a people who know the itch and ache that they themselves cannot relieve are properly prepared to receive the unexpected personal package sent from above to become God-with-us, God everywhere.
Now, thanks to his taking on our flesh in the womb of Mary, the pregnant woman cherished by so many under the title, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the author of heaven and earth, Jesus, is already everywhere among us in our mutual humanity. This kindly mother wants to be with us wherever we are in life, so that we might be drawn more fully into her Son’s presence. Where Mary is, Jesus is. Where Jesus is, there is Mary--in Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and coming to a stable church community near you. We become part of the chorus of that long-awaited night who are filled with wonder, who can’t help but exclaim: OMG! Or better yet, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”; “Vamos, Pastores, Vamos”: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; “Los Peces en el Río”: “O Holy Night”; “Cumbia de Navidad”—and the list goes on and on.
Wherever you are this Christmas and in the New Year of Grace 2023, O may God bless you and loosen your hearts and tongues in gratitude to sing his praises. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!