Today we celebrate the feast of St John the Evangelist which is a very special celebration for our parish. The readings today speak to John’s role as the proclaimer of the good news of Christ’s coming and of his mission here on earth to set free the captives.
If there was ever a time when this message rings in our hearts it is surely in times Like these, when we understand the stresses of restraint, of captivity, of isolation and unsurety.
Many people have seen their hopes and dreams crushed this year, weddings, jobs, family gatherings at Christmas, 67,000 grieving families who celebrated Christmas without their loved ones for the first of many difficult and sorrowful holidays .
What does John have to say about this kind of heartache and trouble to us today in his epistle and gospel. ?
Every year at this time of year we spend a lot of money and time preparing food, buying presents, decorating our houses, our churches, our shops. Its estimated that Christmas brings in over one-third of the revenue that businesses enjoy during the course of the year.
No matter how difficult the year before has been, Christmas is always that moment when we say ‘hey yes, but we still have something to celebrate.’
Last year, I wandered into St John’s on Christmas Day and on this feast day, I had a conversation that would change the course of my life, when Father Daniel and Father John invited me to preach. This is my anniversary here at the church and one I was so looking forward to celebrating. But covid had other ideas and I have been at home contemplating Christmas from a different angle. I’m missing Christmas Eve Mass and Christmas Day services. I feel sad.
So this is a hard one, when many many many families have had to cancel their plans at the last minute to spend time with each other, some families haven’t seen each other in months.
What is there to celebrate?
When life is now so unpredictable and even frightening? How do we muster up Christmas Cheer when we feel so disappointed and just tired of being alone?
Hear the words of John’s epistle:
‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’
These words bring us back to our roots, they bring us back to the reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with.
Because God so loved this world, that he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and the holy spirit and walked among us as a man. You cannot celebrate the manger without celebrating the incarnational love that brought Jesus to the cross.
This isn’t a holiday about tinsel and lights and presents and food- although we use those things symbolically to celebrate our joy, but in a time of darkness, this is the time we celebrate that god sees us in our darkness, that God loves us in the darkness and that he is the bright light into our darkness.
Somewhere in the corner of a stable of a barn amongst animals in haystacks the teenage mother brought her gift and god’s gift to us.
And John’s job was to proclaim this gift. To say, I’ve seen him, I’ve heard him, I’ve touched him with my hands, I’ve laid my head upon his shoulder at the last supper, I stood at the foot of the cross while he died and I was at the tomb when he rose and I can tell you without any doubt, that He is our gift, our way, our truth, our very life.
This is John’s testimony.
In the gospel today it is very interesting that all of the disciples are asking Jesus who is going to betray you? who is going to betray you?
Do you know why they’re asking him this question? They’re asking him this question because they know how easily it could be them.
they’re asking him this question because they know the depth of their own hearts and their capacity for betrayal. They know that sin is real, and it traps them.
In his epistle, John continues to exhort us:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’
If we say we have no sin, no darkness, no betrayals? We are fooling ourselves, and that is the definition of our captivity.
That we do not acknowledge our own shadow that we do not acknowledge our need for salvation, we cannot ignore that the baby who came became the man who died and the lord who defeated death so that we too could live not only after life but in this life right now in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of unsurety in the middle of uncertainty. Not Only does he offer us life, when he offers us life, its very specifically for us where we live in our hearts in our times in our fears in our lives.
In the gospel, Peter -who is always putting his foot in it -looks at John who’s following them around like a puppy dog John was never far from Jesus side, that’s why he’s referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved…and Peter says to Jesus well what’s going to happen to him, what about him?
Jesus says something that sounds like something your mother might say right?
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me’
John reminds us that even though we are the body of Christ, we come to the decision about our relationship to Christ individually and that we have to choose ourselves individually to follow Jesus.
We need each other to encourage each other during times of darkness and to remind each other of the gifts that god gives us in the middle of nothingness, in the middle of nothingness god brought us this miracle, which is not only for ourselves, but it’s appropriate for us to follow the example of John the Evangelist by declaring what we have seen with our eyes and what we have touched with our hands and what we have experience in our hearts which is the life of God made fresh in US through Jesus in the Holy spirit.
Whatever comes, he is with us.
Whatever we fear, he is greater than our fear, for he is perfect love and perfect love throws fear out the door.
We can only be a light to the world, testifying what we know to be true, if we have allowed that truth to really speak to our own lives.
This is the message of our patron Saint, and the mission our parish is called to.
In this time of quiet solitudes, when we have time to think on our lives and our source, may the love of Christ and the gift of the Evangelist’s testimony bring all of us such great joy.