Two days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist. John is the apostle who stood by the Cross of Christ and received Mary into his home. The gospel attributed to John was the last of the four canonical gospels to be written and contains the most explicitly developed and exalted understanding (Christology) of who Christ is. This can be seen in the very first verse of the first chapter of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John wastes no time in presenting the great mystery of Christ as fully God and fully human!
Here, I think it is helpful to distinguish the Church’s understanding of mystery as contrasted to our pragmatic American mindset. Often, in our American understanding, we view mystery as a problem to be solved and then moved on from. The Church’s understanding is different. The Church invites us to view mystery as a reality to be lived and encountered. As we continually live and encounter this great mystery we are brought to truer understanding and deeper conversion. The mystery of Christian faith is not a problem to be solved and left behind but rather a living reality to continually be returned to and a reality which does not fail to nourish us.
Perhaps this understanding of mystery (and specifically the mystery of Christ as fully God and fully human) is why the Church has placed this Feast of St. John just two days after our celebration of Christmas. On Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of the Word made flesh; today we are invited to live and encounter this mystery whom we name Jesus, Lord and Savior!
In light of this understanding of mystery, I think it appropriate to share a few verses from John’s gospel that might assist our prayer and reflection during these first days of the Christmas season.
(I would invite any who might read these words to spend some time in the practice of Lectio Divina with these words during these first days of the Christmas season. Sit with these words from John’s gospel and note what strikes your heart.)
The verses are from Chapter 1 of John:
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:9-14)
The Word came to his own home… What a marvelous and also tender thing! God created the world and prepared the people of Israel that He might have a “home” to come to. Creation (and therefore we) are of primary concern to our God! God is not content to let us be lost in sin and death so he prepares a home. The Word becomes flesh!
“Home” is a powerful word, a word laden with meaning and symbolism. John is opening for us a great truth of our Christian faith. God, it seems, does not just want to save us and correct our erring ways while at the same time remaining distant and removed; rather He wants to make a home with us. God wants to make a home with us! This truly gives an added dimension to the manger scene!
How might this “home” be made? But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born … of God. When we open our own hearts to receive Christ then our Lord enters and makes of our own hearts a home where he might dwell. And as we receive Christ then he makes of our hearts a place of welcome (a “home”) for others.
The Church and the apostle John are giving us a great truth to chew on these first days of Christmas – the birth of Christ both makes possible our own birth and give us a true home. As we encounter and receive Christ who is the Word made flesh then we, ourselves, are made children of God and members of the household of God!
God comes to make a home with us!