St Aldhelm’s, Vulcan
MERCIFUL Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it being enlightened by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
I speak to you now in the name of the ✠ Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As I sat down to prepare for tonight, I had an initial thought of “wouldn’t it be lovely if I could say something about Christmas?” and then I read the readings and realised I could. You see, I really wanted to talk about Christmas again, and how we respond to it.
On Christmas Eve, when we got to our second Christmas Eve service at All Saints, Cochrane, a lot of people were saying they were tired. It had been a long day, nevermind how far Gordon had to drive on Sunday, with three big services and a lot of preparation going into it. I was actually doing quite well, I had caught a second wind. Now most of the work I do at All Saints happens outside the services. I am usually just a Subdeacon, essentially a glorified page turner. After the priest ceremonially cleans his hands before the prayer of consecration, I turn the pages in the missal book for him so his hands don’t touch things other than the bread and wine.
When I got up there to do my big page turn, though, he ended up turning the page, because I missed it. Afterwards someone joked with me that they thought I was falling asleep, but I wasn’t. I was captivated by the consecrated Bread, the Body of our Lord, sitting on the altar, and the words of the Gospel were running through my head. Not the familiar words from St Luke’s Gospel, “In those days, Caesar Augustus ordered that a census should be taken…” but rather from the reading that we had tonight from St John’s account. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
This Christmas I was deeply struck by the reality of the incarnation. Who am I that God himself should lower himself to become like me, for my sake? What height of love does it speak to that Jesus would bear the indignity of incarnation, the torment of separation from his Father in the crucifixion and all for the sake of those who had still turned away from him?
In Genesis, darkness is a metaphor for chaos. When God creates light, aside from the light of our created universe it is also speaking to the idea that God has brought order into creation. In the Fall, darkness creeps back into creation. Fallen humanity become slaves to sin and darkness. To counter this, we are told that Christ, the light of the Word, has entered into it and that darkness cannot overcome him. Christ in the incarnation destroyed the power of sin and death.
All of this speaks to the Christian hope we have. The hope of renewed creation, the restoration of all things, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Struck by this hope, there I was standing in awe of the creator of the universe becoming incarnate and the one question that kept running through my mind was how are we to respond?
While I have to admit I cheated a little and moved some of the lectionary readings around to get chapter 1 of St John’s gospel into the readings, our Isaiah reading is the appointed reading for this feastday. Chapter six is the prophetic call of Isaiah, something that appears in most of the books of the prophets in the old testament, an account of how they were called by God to serve as prophets. Samuel’s call and Isaiah’s call are probably the most famous.
It is no coincidence that in the Octave of Christmas and for the Feast of St John the Evangelist, the disciple that Christ loved, we are appointed to read the call. It ends with words that echo through the millenia: “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
We are reminded that we recognize tonight St John, the Disciple whom Jesus loved, because he, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Isaiah the prophet, said yes when God called.
How do we respond to the hope of Christmas? With the ‘yes’ of St John. I mentioned earlier that I had cheated a bit and switched out the reading. The gospel we were meant to read tonight was actually from chapter 13, the Last Supper. After supper, Christ says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
This isn’t just a wishy-washy be nice to everyone command. Christ here gives clear instructions. We aren’t just to love others, but to love them as Christ himself loved others. In the incarnation, Christ overcome death and showed us how God intended for us to live and this new commandment is an invitation to enter into that life.
In Christmas, we have a season of hope that reminds us of God’s great love for his people. Yet tonight, as we remember the life and works of St John the Evangelist, we are given a reminder of one of the ideals of responding to that love.
Dear brothers and sisters, may we each give our yes to the call of God, and may we be encouraged by the life and witness of St John. Amen.