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Sermon for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist

“Even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”

Books and books, a world of books and a world of words but even and always more than the world. Christmas celebrates something more than ideas and words wafting about on the wind or drifting in and out of our minds. Christmas celebrates the Word made flesh. The three holy days of Christmas underscore something of the radical meaning of the Incarnation: first, with The Feast of Stephen reminding us of the integral connection between Christmas and Easter, and, especially, of the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins which belongs to our Christian witness; now, secondly, with The Feast of St. John the Evangelist; and, then, thirdly, with The Feast of the Holy Innocents.

The Feast of St. John the Evangelist recalls us to the great mystery of Christmas wonderfully signalled in The Prologue of his Gospel read on Christmas Eve. It recalls us to his teachings, his doctrine, found at once in his Gospel and in his Epistles. The Epistle reading from 1st John echoes the great Gospel of Christmas and serves as a kind of homily or commentary about the meaning of the Incarnation, something which John is especially concerned to proclaim, to think and to contemplate. “That which was from the beginning” namely “the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” is that, he says, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life”, that is what “we declare unto you.” And why? “That ye also may have fellowship with us … and that your joy may be full.”

The message is about the Word as Light and Life in the Son of the Father, a message conveyed by the one who identifies himself as “the disciple which beareth witness of these things and wrote these things”. Yet, there is the moment of insight into the truth and the majesty of God in Jesus Christ, a moment of realization that the infinite and the eternal truth of God in our midst is more than what can possibly be captured by words in books and that “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”. It is a cautionary and humble note. It is not about a kind of intellectual despair but about the deeper reality of what we read and proclaim.

Just like our service of Christmas Lessons and Carols we are carried by God’s Word written into the life of God which such words reveal. We are carried by words into the Word, the Word which we can never exhaust or empty; the Word of God which was from the beginning and through which all things were made is always greater than the world, even the world of books. The story of Christ in terms of what he said and did, John suggests, is always more and never less than the world and ourselves. Such is the nature of “that eternal life, which was with the Father and [which] was manifested unto us.” There is something essentially inexhaustible about that Word. Such is the divinum mysterium of Christ’s Incarnation, the mystery which is always more and never less.

“Even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”

Fr. David Curry
The Feast of St. John the Evangelist/Sunday after Christmas 2015