You know that our word “Gospel” means “good news” and comes from the Old English word “Godspel.” Hearing the Gospel over & over as we do all our lives, we might wonder how much “news” there can be in it for us. Who, by this time, doesn’t know, for example, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and its meaning? And who hasn’t heard Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception and birth? In our TV-radio-newspaper sense of the term, there doesn’t seem to be much real news in the Gospel. We’d be more inclined to revere the Gospel for its durability rather than for its immediacy or novelty.
But look at it from another point of view. Think of the tremendous power of a single word. Start with the negative: when was the last time your day – or night – was spoiled by a disparaging word from someone close to you? Has a note or a letter ever left you limp, sick in body and in spirit? I’m sure you’ve had such experiences. I have, often. And there will be more to come, I’m certain. Words can be as deadly and as hurtful as bullets, especially when they are fired at us by someone we love.
On the other hand, words can also be powerful life-givers. “I love you” can take a human being out of the doldrums of passing depression to heights of happiness and confidence. “It’s alright – I’m here” destroys fear and instantly reassures. There are words, spoken from the heart, that affirm and heal and praise and promise and permit, words that welcome and accept. The loneliest persons on earth are not necessarily those who have no family and few friends, but those who never hear life-giving words – like the inmates I correspond with on death row in a loveless Georgia prison.
Many years ago, at a regional conference on education, I heard a presentation by the then-famous Dr. Sidney Simon. In the course of his scholarly and very practical talk, he mentioned that his favorite time of day is mail time, the arrival of the letter-carrier, because he always looks forward to the good surprises it brings as well as the letters he is eagerly expecting. I realized how true that is for me, too – that even on a day-off, no matter where I may be, if I am within reasonable driving distance from home, I frequently go back to my mailbox for the day’s infusion of life from family and friends. I open my computer and iPhone several times a day for the same reason.
Regardless of what our personal status may be – position, wealth, seniority, talents, whatever – the circumstances of our life can overtake and victimize us and cause us pain and worry. It’s then, above all times, that we desperately need a word that is more powerful than the forces that are crushing us. We believe that we have that word in the person of Jesus, who promised to be with us, every step of our journey in the often dark and frightening valley through which we have to walk. He said he’d be with us always. He is the word that will not return unfulfilled to the one he called Father.
I think that is news every time we need such a word. It has to be proclaimed constantly, as we do at every Mass, because we do not live in it naturally or habitually – we are too easily distracted, too easily thrown off course, when the pressure is on.
From Mary’s womb on Christmas Day, the Word – powerful, loving, gentle – became audible and visible and present.
Let’s move on to the place of his birth!