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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”

John is the great Evangelist of the mystery of Christmas at once soaring into the heights of divinity on eagle’s wings and with an eagle’s sight and witnessing to the reality of the Incarnation. “That which was from the beginning, 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 … declare we unto you.” His Gospel and Epistles testify to the nature of the Incarnation and counter the earliest debate and heresy known as docetism which argues that God could not be God and engage our humanity by becoming human. Spirit and matter are utterly opposed; there is a fundamental dualism to reality in such a view.

John the Evangelist argues to the contrary that the mystery of the Incarnation of God’s Word and Son reveals the greater mystery of God himself. God does not cease to be God in becoming man. In the life of Christ as the Gospel reading makes clear “there are also many other things which Jesus did” and, no doubt, said, that have not been written; indeed so many “that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” The mystery of Christmas is about the inexhaustible mystery of God in the wonder of his intimate engagement with us in the humanity of Christ. The Word made flesh, that Word “which was from the beginning,” from the principle of all life and thought, “was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”

Things have been written in witness of these things “and we know that his witness is true,” John says about himself it seems. We may think that is a kind of special pleading but it is in the context of Peter following Jesus and asking about “the disciple whom Jesus loved following,” the disciple “which also leaned on his breast at supper” and as John tells us, the disciple who said at the last supper “Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” They are all strong arguments about the person of the Evangelist and about what he has heard and seen, and even more, what he has come to understand and believe. The Gospel reading belongs to the resurrection appearances of Christ and reflects on the theme of betrayal and crucifixion – all testament to the reality of the body of Christ at the same time to the divinity of Christ. All things which belong to the witness of John the Evangelist, he who wrote these things.

And why? He testifies to “that which we have seen and heard,“ he says, so “that ye also may have fellowship with us,” but that fellowship is equally with the Father and the Son; in short, koinonia or communion with one another and koinonia or communion with God in the divine koinonia of the Trinity. We are made partakers of the divine nature not of any power on our own but by virtue of what has been made known and shared, what has indeed been written. “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” And what is our joy at Christmas? “That God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

These are words which witness to the great Gospel of Christmas Eve from the Prologue of John’s Gospel, words which echo the deep meaning of Christmas in the coming of the one who is the Word, the Light, and the Son of God with us. This is at the heart of the Christian Faith in the wonder of God’s intimate engagement with our humanity in the Incarnate Christ. They are words which awaken us to the praise and wonder of God. In that lies our joy, a joy which is boundless because it is grounded in our fellowship, our koinonia or communion with God. Something of the inexhaustible mystery of God has been made manifest to us that we might have fellowship with God and with one another. “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him,” as John says later in his First Epistle and which serves as one of the Anthems of Christmas Day.

Through the eyes of John, we are allowed to see more clearly into the mystery of God and to rejoice in our fellowship with God and with one another because of the mystery of the Incarnation. The writings of John bear witness to the mystery of the Incarnation but they also serve to enlighten us more and more about that inexhaustible mystery of the Word made flesh whose sayings and deeds, “the which if they should be written” would mean more books than the world could contain. Through the witness of John, we rejoice in what has been made known to us, our fellowship with God in the Incarnation of Christ, true God and true man.

In his light may we see light, the light of his grace today and the light of his glory hereafter, knowing with respect to the things of God and God with us in Christ Jesus that “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

Fr. David Curry
Feast of St. John the Evangelist
Christmastide 2017