The second day of Christmastide has a different feel than the first. December 26th we remembered the first martyr Stephen. December 27th we remember St John the Evangelist. According to tradition, he is the only one of the twelve apostles who did not suffer martyrdom (We pass over the end of Judas in silence). Gone are red vestments that recalled the blood of the slain faithful. The white, which celebrates the holiness of the Saints, returns.
John and Stephen speak to different aspects of the Christian experience. Some are called to the dramatic acts of faithfulness that forever mark their lives. Stephen is remembered for one speech. John, by contrast, is a witness to the long life of faithfulness. He was one of the first to follow Jesus. Later, after many of his friends and family had died, John lingered. I thought of this as I gave communion to a mostly older gathering this morning. The elderly amongst us are not signs of the church’s failure. They are witnesses to its success. The faith that began its work in them as children has sustained them as they near its consummation.
John is not just an example of elderly faith. He accomplished something that few other Christian theologians have done. He articulated the beginning and end of the Christian story in a way that remains unmatched. It is the cold heart that is not stirred by the opening chapter of John’s gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1–5, 14, 18)
He gets Christmas! God’s word has come among us. The light shines in the darkness. But John also understands the church’s end:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 7:9–12)
As John looked to the future of the church, he saw the worship of all tribes, peoples, and nations before the throne of the lamb. John brings gospel based diversity to the heart of Christmas. Christmas, through the eyes of John, declares Jesus to be the redeemer of all mankind. It reminds the church that as long as we remain estranged from our brothers and sisters from other races we fall far short of the purpose of the incarnation. God in Christ came to reconcile all to God and one another. This is the fruit of Christmas. John the Apostle and Evangelist bears witness to it.