With Boxing Day behind us, the celebration of Christmas is done for most people, even those in the UK and Commonwealth.
For Eastern Christians it is the last days of the three-day Nativity of Christ, with the rest of the twelve-day fast-free period being either the after-feast of the Nativity or the fore-feast of the even more important Feast of Theophany. Where the West commemorated Stephen on the second day, the East commemorates him on the third.
In the West, it is the feast of St John the Apostle. Outside the Western Church, John is commemorated on a variety of days, and no doubt for a variety of reasons. However, there is reference to his commemoration on the 27th of December going back at least to the 4th century.
One of the interesting things to me about the calendar is that Stephen and John are commemorated on successive days. The first martyr is followed by the one Apostle who was not martyred and lived longer than any other.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of John’s apostleship was that Jesus gave His mother into John’s care. This must have been no small decision. Jesus, being the perfect man, is the perfect human son as well as the perfect Divine Son, so we know that He honors and loves his mother as perfectly as He honors His Father. He gave her to John as his mother, thereby with confidence entrusting John to care for her with the same degree of love and honor. I suppose that it is not surprising that He chose the disciple whom He loved and the Apostle who most richly expressed the love of God in his writings.
If Mary was only 14 or maybe 15 years older than Jesus (in His humanity), she was only 47 or 48 years old at the time of His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. She conceivably lived another twenty or thirty years. (Accounts in early Christian literature vary greatly.) All of this time, she was in John’s care.
With all the time he spent with Mary, you might have expected John to write a Gospel like Luke’s, where she is one of the prominent characters. But John the Apostle, John the Beloved, John the Evangelist is also called John the Theologian. Matthew and Luke tell the stories about Jesus’ Incarnation. John explains the theology of it.
In some of the simplest Greek in the New Testament (new students of Koine Greek often begin their exploration of the language with his words), John lays out the loftiest of concepts. In a mere eighteen verses, he describes how the eternal God embodied His eternal Message so that humanity living in darkness might see the Light and be embraced as His children. His whole gospel is written for the express purpose “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
He then wrote a letter expressly for believers, to keep them from wandering away from the faith. Over and over he tells them to love another. If they love one another they can be sure that they are in Christ. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
I never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who know John 3:16 by heart, but not 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” The apostle makes is clear that when can only be sure we have accepted God’s love by believing in the Jesus of his gospel account if we are sharing God’s love with one another as describe in his letter. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
And finally, it was John who was chosen by Jesus to give the revelation of Himself in such a way as to encourage the Church in the dark days they were about to face. The last vestiges of the Old Covenant were about to be swept away as Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. The Everlasting Kingdom of God was about to be revealed in power and glory through the Church. And while Jesus showed John the things that were coming to pass in the years leading up to 70 AD, this revelation has been an encouragement to the Church throughout the ages.
That groups (sometimes big, sometimes small) throughout the ages have gotten it into their collective heads that John’s words were specifically about events happening to them shouldn’t discourage us or make us shy away from its message. We reign with Christ, til He makes His enemies His footstool. We are not waiting for the bad to get worse until we escape. We are the victorious Body of Christ.
When we think about the life and writings of St John the Apostle, there is so much about which we can glorify the Lord.