Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: St John the Evangelist

First Sunday of Christmas
27 December 2020
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Life is full of surprises

I have been ordained for nearly ten years and have preached throughout the year for many a year

However, this is the first time that I have found myself preaching on the Feast of St John the Evangelist

When I came to examine the Feast Days around Christmas, they all seem to make sense

The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents on the 28th December fits the Christmas Story

And the death of Thomas a Beckett on the 29th December is the day that he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170

But why St John the Evangelist should be remembered on the 27th December is something I have been unable to fathom

That said, I believe that this is an appropriate time to remember this writer of the fourth and most theological Gospels

First of all St John merits a Feast Day of his own

All the other Gospel writers are remembered throughout the year

Mark in April

St Matthew in September

Luke in October and finally

St John in December

The fact that St John’s Feast Day is so close to Jesus’ birth seems appropriate too

For it is John who is, arguably, one of the closest of Jesus’ disciples

Not only was John one of the three disciples to be chosen to accompany Jesus to Mount Tabor when He was transfigured

But he was the only apostle to be with Jesus as he died on Calvary

Finally, he was chosen by Jesus to look after his Mother – Jesus gave all that he had left in the world – to him

The two of them could not be closer and it is therefore perhaps appropriate that they are so close together in the Church Calendar too

But as well as the proximity in time and place, I think that there are sound theological reasons to place the Feast Day of St John so close to Christmas

St John is the author of the fourth and most theological of the Gospels

Whilst the other authors depicted the life of Jesus, St John wrestles with the theological ramifications as well

The Biblical Scholar John Barton said of John’s Gospel

The theology represents a high point even in the New Testament’s high Christology. With Jesus presented as the Word of God that existed from the beginning of time”

St John develops the teaching of St Paul and incorporates it into the life of Jesus

It is so wonderfully told and recounted each year in the prologue to John’s Gospel, namely

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God...All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not

St John reminds us that this heavenly babe is not just human but divine at the same time

Not just Jesus but the Son of God

Which brings me onto the last facet of St John and that is his depiction as an Eagle

It was the second century Bishop St Irenaeus of Lyon who depicted all the four Gospel writers as the different figures found in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 4: 7)

To St John he gives the privilege of being depicted as an eagle

Which is why you so often find lecterns in Church in this shape

But an eagle was chosen because it is supposed to have one super human quality – the ability to look the sun in the eye without blinking

True or not, it represents the ability of St John to look the truth in the eye and, in turn, impart that truth to us

So on the Feast of St John, just two days after Christmas, there could not be a more appropriate Saints Day

It reminds us of his proximity to Jesus

The majesty of his Gospel

But, above all, he completes the Christmas story by reminding us that Jesus is not only the Son of God but the Word made flesh