ST. JOHN'S DAY
The “third day of Christmas” is marked by the feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist, called “the beloved disciple” in the the Gospel he wrote and styled “the Divine” or “the Theologian” in the language of the Church. This is a felicitous marriage of feast and season, since John's Gospel excels as the Gospel of the Incarnation. Its magnificent prologue is rightly read as the liturgical Gospel on Christmas Day. After we hear of the angels' appearance to the shepherds on Christmas Eve, on Christmas morning we encounter the sublime truth of this great day: “The Word was God.... the Word was made flesh.”
The brief homily we call “the First Epistle General of John” begins with a passage almost as striking, which echoes and reinforces the monumental prologue to the Gospel. John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, we we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled …. that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.”
In this passage, the Apostle was dealing head on with the earliest heresy to invade the Church, a heresy which alleged that the Incarnate God did not really become man but only seemed to be human. We call this falsehood Docetism. This heresy can even be found in our Hymnal at Hymn 165, with the appalling line “Thou seemest human and divine.” We wish Tennyson had written, “Thou are both human and divine,” as our Creed clearly declares.
The reality of Our Lord's human nature continues to shock. It was a scandal to the ancient Jews, a stumbling-block to the ancient Gentiles, and an absurdity to the world today. We sinners do not want God to get too close to us. We foolishly believe He can be managed better at a great distance.
John demolishes this heresy with few words. We have seen God, he affirms, not just in some mystical vision, but “with our eyes.” We have handled God “with our hands.” But when? When we arrested Him in the garden? When we examined His wounds on Easter morning? When we touch and taste the Eucharistic Bread?
John is relentless in declaring the reality of Our Lord's human nature, sometimes resorting to almost crude language. Where Paul (not known for under-statement!) speaks of the “body” of Christ, gentle and poetic John speaks of His “flesh.” And this, John teaches us, is a matter of eternal importance: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist....” (I John 4:2). Likewise, John allows the wretch Pontius Pilate to utter one of the most important affirmations of the Gospel, “Behold, the man.”
In the vulnerable humanity of the Infant in the Manger and the rejected corpse on the Cross, we truly see the humanity of God. LKW
HOLY INNOCENTS' DAY
During the “twelve days of Christmas,” the second, third and fourth days are festivals which commemorate first St Stephen, next St John the Evangelist, and then the children slaughtered by Herod in his futile effort to destroy the Infant Jesus. This day, December 28, is where we stand today in the Church's liturgical year. It is called “Holy Innocents Day” in our Prayer Book. It is also sometimes called “Childermas.”
This is one day we find painful to celebrate. The death of a child is a dreadful experience. The death of a host of children gives us nightmares. Oddly, many Biblical scholars reject this story as anything more than a piece of fiction. But the reality is that Herod the Great and his whole family were a murderous lot. Herod the Great is known to have murdered two of his own sons. He would have thought nothing of slaughtering all the very young children in Bethlehem and the surrounding territory. Men who worship power, especially their own power, will go to any length to secure it.
As grim as it is, and equally as distasteful, Holy Innocents' Day reminds us of exactly what kind of world God came to save. There is a false Gospel which would teach us that Jesus Christ came into this world merely as a good and holy example, to show humankind, already decent and upright, how to live better lives and to improve their moral condition. We repeat: that is all a falsehood.
Herod's hideous crime plainly shows that the world in which Jesus was born was, and still is, a violent, cruel, and depraved world. Ivory-tower intellectuals who cannot believe that Herod was capable of such evil are still somehow able to live comfortably and serenely, while millions of innocent children are slaughtered in the abortion factories of this nation. This monstrous sin in our own time plainly demonstrates that Herod, as he murdered his own children, was hardly a unique figure in history.
In contrast to the false Gospel summarized above, the true Gospel tells is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save helpless sinners, unable to help themselves. He took upon Him our very flesh and blood, “the likeness of sinful flesh,” that He might over-power and destroy Herod and all that Herod represents in this fallen world.
Today's Lesson from Revelation 14 shows us a picture of great victory with the Lamb standing on Mount Sion. Plainly, Herod had every reason to fear the Infant lying in the manger. If Herod was “mocked” by the wise men, he would soon enough be over-whelmed and humiliated by the King of kings and Lord of lords. LKW