27 December – More or more than enough?

Jesus said to Peter, ‘Follow me.’ Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
(John 21.19b-25)

Yesterday we left Bethlehem for a moment and looked at the first martyr, Stephen. Today we are still not in the stable, the place where we have been bound, but are with John. This is John, Apostle and Evangelist, the one who is depicted in the gospels as a young man, who lay next to Jesus at the Last Supper, who was there with Peter and James at all the significant moments in the gospel. This is the John who we associate with the Fourth Gospel which surprised us on Christmas Day, and with the Letters and the Book of Revelation. This is John who didn’t die a martyr’s death, as did the other apostles, but lived out his days in enforced exile on the island of Patmos – or did he die in Ephesus – we don’t really know.

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But that is the tradition and it has long been the case that he is celebrated on this day within the octave, the eight days of the initial Christmas celebration.

John is often known as John the Divine. This title pays tribute to him as the first great theologian of the Christian church. It is the use of the word ‘Divine’ that we also find when we are talking of such groups as the ‘Caroline Divines’ or the ‘Anglican Divines’, people like Andrewes, Cosin, Ken, Hooker, and Taylor.

But there is something intriguing which I find in the gospel reading for this feast day and it is that hint at more. Even after the excesses of Christmas Day and Boxing Day there is probably still more lined up for us. The image of little Oliver standing with his bowl in the workhouse and saying ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ is one that stays with us. We want more. And this is what John seems to promise, or at least to suggest, that there is more to be had, that there are untold stories of Jesus and so many to be told that

‘if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.’

'I want some more.'

‘I want some more.’

It is a tantalising verse. We want to know, we want more, we want to know all that Jesus did. This is not the only place in which John makes mention that there is more. At the end of the previous chapter it says this

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
(John 20.30-31)

This is the real truth of the matter. Of course more could be said about Jesus. Everyone who experienced him could have told their own story, every community he touched had their tale to tell and the books are still being written and the encounters are still being had and I can write about my experience of Jesus and you can write of yours and we could fill the world and the web with our words. There is more but John is saying to us that what we have been given is enough and enough to know that the child in the manger ‘is the Messiah, the Son of God’. This is all we need to know, this is all we need to believe.

We have been on a journey to Bethlehem, Bethlehem bound. But the Christian life is all about journey, it is all about pilgrimage and there is a destination and one that is not so different to the destination for this journey. The destination is Christ, knowing Jesus, being one with him as he is one with us. Professor Alister McGrath writes this of the journey.

It encourages us to think ahead, and look forward with anticipation to the joy of arrival. One day we shall finally be with God, and see our Lord face to face!

This is what John helps us to do, to see the Lord face to face and to know him as the promised of God, the Word made flesh; John is the ‘Divine’ who leads us to the divine and to find in that divinity our own true selves. For John tells us that Jesus said

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
(John 10.10)

It is that abundant life that we find as we look into the crib and adore God in human form.

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching
of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord.
Amen.

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