Commentary on the Gospel of
Sometime around second grade, when I was just starting to pick up on the prayers at Mass, I remember having this conversation with my mom in the car on the way back from church. I asked her, “What is the word that God says?”
“What?” she said.
“You know, the word. There’s that part before communion when we say, ‘Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Which word is it?” I was imagining something of a magic word.
She told me, “Oh, I suppose that’s just an expression to say, ‘God gives the command.’”
I went, “Hmm, ok,” and that was how I heard it for the next 18 years or so.
There is an image from a retreat talk that totally changed the way I hear those words from Mass. It goes like this: A person goes out on a journey. The path is clear, lined by grass on either side. Then the path goes into the woods. The person is not afraid; they trust God, and the path is still pretty obvious. Then they come to a fork in the path. Trusting God to lead them the right way, the person sits down at the fork and asks, “God, which way should I go?”
And God replies, “I am with you.”
I am with you. I thought about how Emmanuel means “God with us,” and something clicked: the word God says which heals us? It’s the same thing God always says. It’s the same Word that was in the beginning with God. “Emmanuel. I Am with you!”
You would have to ask a scripture scholar about the nuanced connections between Wisdom personified and the Logos in early Greek Christian theology which are drawn together in today’s readings. For me, this understanding of the Word being Emmanuel, “I Am with you,” shines in the scripture today. I imagine Christ running swiftly on the earth as the word runs in Psalm 147, maybe as a child delighting in the act of running and feeling the earth underfoot. I imagine Christ welcoming us into the loving family of God as adopted brothers and sisters. I imagine joy and love radiating as light around that family.
There are a few passages that always jump out to me as though highlighted, bolded, and italicized. One of those passages is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This line stuck out to me so much at Christmas 2019 that it resonated throughout the next year and became my Christmas card in 2020:
This, I think, is the hope that belongs to our call as Christians. The last 21 months have been rough the world over, to say the least. It is easy to get caught up in the darkness of sickness, isolation, lockdowns, fears, economic hardships, and social injustices and structures so deeply embedded in culture that changing course for the better seems impossible. As a church worker, it is easy to get caught up in the darkness of discouragement when the congregations for Christmas and average Sundays are much diminished from pre-Covid years. But as one of my mentors was fond of saying, “A single candle dispels darkness in a room.” The light may be small, but it is resilient. If we Christians really believe that God came to be with us, among us, one of us amid the darkness in our world, and if we really believe that the Holy Spirit actively guides the Church*, then our call is to listen to this hope and share that resilient flame. The darkness has not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.