In grade school, I was taught by the Grammarian Sisters. Actually, they were Sisters of the Incarnate Word, but their commitment to good grammar for a bunch of country kids was heroic.
I remember Sister Alphonse explaining the work of the preposition. She described it as a word that came before a noun or a pronoun, indicating a relationship to another word in the clause.
To make sure that we recognized prepositions, she had us memorize them. Little did I know then that this would affect my thinking about Christmas — the feast of the Incarnation of the Word, as the good sisters often reminded us.
That comes from the prologue of John’s gospel. He testifies that the Child of the Nativity is the Word incarnate, the enfleshment of the Logos.
“And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
The more familiar verse is Isaiah’s, “... the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son and shall name Him Immanuel.”
Matthew tells us that the name, now romanized as Emmanuel, means “God with us.”
Among us. With us. Suddenly it occurred to me why the lowly preposition was so important to Sister Alphonse. Carrying its burden of relationship, which is the essence of Incarnation, the very reason for the season as it were, the preposition reveals our God.
God for us. The “comfort and joy” of which we sing is found in a God Who celebrates our good times and helps us bear our crosses in the bad.
God about us, Who delights in creation and desires for every creature the fullness of life.
God around us, in the excess of 100 billion galaxies, the fragrance of a flower, and the tears of a stranger.
God before us, leading the way, marking the path, shining a light.
God after us, pursuing our hearts, wanting to be a part of our lives.
God despite us, forgiving our idolatry and selfishness, inviting a second chance, and a third, and a seventh to the 70th power.
God through us, offering redeeming love and corrective justice in the work of our hands.
God among us, in those who love us and in others who do not know us but need us.
God in us, filling a deep and agonizing void.
Buckminster Fuller once said God is a verb. Maybe Sister Alphonse thought God more a preposition — pre-positioned to be the source and summit of our lives. Merry Christmas!