“When a profound silence covered all things, and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O God, bounded from heaven’s royal throne…” (Wisdom 18: 14-15) This excerpt from the Book of Wisdom introduces the Liturgy for this 2nd Sunday of Christmas. It is a Liturgy filled with the strong image of God’s powerful Word bursting in on our human condition.
The quotation from Wisdom might first give the impression of God’s gentle visitation to our human soul in the depth of the darkness and at the moment of great stillness. However, when we look at the context and the whole thought in the Book of Wisdom, we see that this all-powerful Word is bounding down in the midst of a situation of slavery to bring death and destruction to the unjust system. Yes, the night was at its deepest darkness for the Hebrew slaves, and the profound silence of complicity and intrigue cloaked the plight and anguish of the people. Today we might call it human trafficking, but down the centuries it’s been known by its raw, unpolished name of ‘slavery’, the enslavement, use and abuse of any person for the benefit of another. It is an evil of enormous proportion across our world today, but we can hear the all-powerful Word of God shattering that ominous silence in the voices of the advocates and healers who have brought the darkness of this sin into the light, and brought the liberating Word of God into the darkness of people’s lives.
In the Gospel, John sets the background of darkness also for the entrance of the Word of God. That Word came shining a light into the darkness. That Word, that was from the beginning with God, became flesh and dwelt among us, or, as some translations say, pitched his tent among us. This same image we hear in the reading from Ecclesiasticus – ‘Wisdom, who was with God from the beginning, pitched her tent in Jacob.’ The God of the desert, the God of the early Israelites, was the God of the pitched tent, the abode that could move and be present with the nomadic people. But the settled people, settled in their ways and settled in their customs and conventions, have a hard time with the pitched tent. It is judged as unhygienic in our sterilized minds. So it is swept off our streets and cleaned from our byways, just as the God of the pitched tent has been banished to the temples and cathedrals. Next time we see the pitched tent under the bridges and on the city streets, may we be dazzled with the light of the knowledge that our all-powerful nomadic God is bounding down to take up dwelling among us, to shatter the darkness of oppression and to bring death and destruction to injustice in all its forms. Then, rather than planning to clean it all up, let us do homage to the presence of the God of the pitched tent dwelling among us as the shepherds and magi did to the little child in the straw.
Elizabeth Ferguson O.P.