Brothers and sisters, imagine it’s Christmas morning and you have worked your way through the pile of presents under the tree. You think you have unwrapped them all when—to your surprise—buried under some of the torn wrapping paper, is a small and unassuming envelope. Truth be told you had nearly thrown it out, but you notice the handwriting and you see it is from your Father. You peel open the cheap and creased envelope, and delve inside, and to your astonishment it’s a lottery ticket, and not just any lottery ticket, but the winning lottery ticket. All of your other presents are forgotten. All thoughts of Christmas lunch are thrown out. Your astonished, amazed, and excited. Your life has been transformed, and it all came in a cheap and creased envelope. You dash out into the street, you stop a man pushing his daughter on her new bike, and tell him everything. You rush off to the lady walking her puppy and gossip the good news. Soon all your neighbours know, soon you’re all drinking a bottle of bubbly, and having the best Christmas ever. Something like that happened to a young man called John, and he was so excited that he spent the rest of his life telling that story to anyone and everyone who would listen. To put it in his own words: 'we declare to you what we have seen and heard' (1 John 1:3).
Today is the Feast of St John, Apostle and evangelist, a young man who encountered what he perhaps at first sight thought was an unimpressive man, a peasant from a back-water town… who it turned out was a winning lottery ticket. John was so amazed by what he had found, 'what [he] have heard, what [he] have seen with [his] eyes, what [he] ha[d] looked at and touched with [his] hands' (1 John 1:1) that he went round telling everyone he could. He thought deeply about that man—who turned out to be God—and John tried to put what was eternal and infinite into words, giving us that wonderful prologue to his, John’s, Gospel and three other letters beside. These letter were written when he could no longer tell people about Jesus because he had been imprisoned on an island—the authorities thought that would stop him speaking—however, it did nothing of the sort, and instead he wrote the letters which we have in our bibles today. This news, this person whom John had met, must have been amazing, in fact more amazing that a wining lottery ticket, precisely because John was willing to be exiled rather than stop talking about Him. Do you get some of that excitement? Do you hear some of the amazement in his letter and in the description he writes in his Gospel?:
'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 21:25).
Like a winning lottery ticket, perhaps, but also so much better. That is why we still gather together on Christmas Day. That is why we read those stories of a peasant baby born in a back-water town who in many respects was a nobody, and who if He was just a nobody, we would never have heard of Him. That is why we sing all those carols. That is why work and traffic stops, and people gather in family groups; and that is why we date our years from this baby’s birth. For as John put it:
'We declare to you what was from the beginning, […]
this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it,
and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us' (1 John 1,3).
That same life which John talked about and wrote about, that same life which was born in a stable in Bethlehem, that life is on offer to all humanity. If we are Christians here this morning, we have in some ways met, and been impacted by that life. If that is true of us, if we are a Christian, then let St John’s example and witness be an encouragement and challenge to you this morning. If you had received a winning lottery ticket this Christmas who would you have told; who would you have rung; who would you have proclaimed the good news too? Well we have received something far far better than a winning lottery ticket… so who have we told, who have we rung, and who have we proclaimed the good news too? John’s life is a witness to what might be done, his writing a witness to what might be written, and though—of course—we are not apostles—and most likely do not have John’s way with words—we are still called to speak, and to share what we have come to know about Jesus with those around us. So pray this morning—and ask St John to pray—that we might have something of his courage and conviction to proclaim what we have come to know to our neighbours and friends. For what we have, and what we know is better that a winning lottery ticket.
When we get to know Jesus, when we get to know the Word made flesh, when we get to know life itself, well John tells us exactly what we get, and exactly what is on offer for all those who accept what we tell them. Not just a nice piece of news, but: 'so that you also may have fellowship with us' (1 John 1:3) that is that you might join the family and in doing so have, not just a relationship with fellow Christians, no more than that, for: 'truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ' (1 John 1:3). When you trust in the baby in the manger, when you believe in His death and resurrection, well you get more than fellowship with other believers, you get a relationship, a fellowship, a friendship with God Himself, which will last all of your life, and through death and out the other side. That is what is on offer for us, and what we are to offer to other people. That is what was in the manger that first Christmas, and what we have sung about, and read about, and seen acted out in countless nativities. Life, eternal life, is on offer for us, but also for anyone and everyone we will ever meet. If we truly grasp that, they will simply never be able to stop us taking about it, they will simply never be able to shut us up. So, pray—and ask St John to pray—that we might have something of his courage and conviction to proclaim what we have come to know with our neighbours and friends. Then let us go, and strengthen by the life given to us in the Sacrament, let us go and tell all who will listen:
'what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life'.
Amen (from Fr Mike).