THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN
Christmas Day is followed by celebrating three consecutive feast days. Yesterday, we celebrated The Feast of St Stephen, deacon and first martyr, joining to the joyous birth of our Savior, the death of one who makes the ‘good confession’ before men and in doing so, forfeits his life. This juxtaposition of life and death invites us to enter more fully into the depth of the mystery of Christmas. The Savior born into the world on Christmas Day manifesting eternal life unto all men, is the only-begotten Son of God who will save humanity by willfully dying on the cross. We celebrate the life of the Savior always mindful of his redeeming death.
Tomorrow, The Holy Innocents are commemorated, and again, our attention is directed towards martyrdom, the many innocent children slain by Herod’s cruel hand. He slays those little ones because fear in his heart over the birth of Messiah is slaying him. Those babes could not yet talk, but like Stephen, wonderfully confessed Christ. Their death met with salvation, as they entered into the Joy of the Lord. In the words of Quodvultdeus, Bishop of Carthage, “Helpless in their battle, they still carried the palm of victory.”
So why, on this day, do we celebrate The Feast of St John the Apostle and Evangelist? Why is our attention drawn to St. John within the orbit of the Christmas octave, bookended by martyrdom? Now, I would never presume to say that I hold the answer to this question! Far wiser and learned men have contemplated and discerned all of the reasons why the Church, in her wisdom, celebrates the Feast of St. John on December 27th.
Well, perhaps part of the answer simply lies in the incarnation: Very Life itself appearing in human form. “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 (for the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us).”
This is John’s testimony. This is his message. This he has declared unto us. God became man that we might have eternal life. The Eternal Son of the Father became flesh in order that he could be touched by human hands, gazed upon with human eyes. Incarnation. This is how the Life, proclaimed by the beloved Apostle, was made manifest. Not through a word, nor by idea, but by the marrying of the spiritual and material, deity and humanity, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully Man. Incarnation: the means of our salvation.
Hear St. Athanasius, “He [Jesus] became what we are, so that He might make us what He is.” This is the Gospel. This is the Apostolic faith. In holding to this doctrine we enjoy fellowship and union with St. John and all the Apostle’s. Through Apostolic fellowship we enter into the joy of the Father and the Son, for that which we believe about our Lord Jesus Christ is an Apostolic faith, this we believe for the salvation of our souls.
The incarnation of our Lord, this too is the message we proclaim, the basis of ‘the good confession’, the truth which pierces the hearts of men, clears the floor like the winnowing fork, a message which divides, “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” And, as we are reminded during these Octave feast days, a message who’s messengers are met with stones and knives, their blood spilled as a witness to the Life which was made manifest on Christmas Day.
In Chapter 3 of his 1st Epistle, St. John writes that, “the Son of God was made manifest to take away our sins.” This is the Good News of the Gospel! And, this is why The Feast of St. John is so very important, it reminds us that our evangelistic proclamation is grounded in the incarnation of Christ: we proclaim to the world what St. John has proclaimed to us.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.” The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you believe this? Then you are born of God. You are sons and daughters of God. And, you have overcome the world… Grace upon Grace! Beloved, with blessed assurance, come to the rail: look upon the mercy of God, hold it within your hands, take, eat, and receive by faith, the Word of Life made manifest for the salvation of the world. Amen.