Sermon Preached for the Commemoration of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, December 27, 2009
If you visit my office, you might look at all the shelves and all the books and wonder why so many. If you are like most, you might say “Too many books.” But how much is too much? How many is too many? Remember in the movie Amadeus when the Emperor Joseph II commented on Mozart’s premiere: Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect. To which Mozart replied: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty? The composer did not have too many notes – just enough.
Today the blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John told us that if all the things Jesus said and did were written down there would be too many books for the world to contain them all. We might argue with John. We would not think it would be too much information. We wish we knew more, had more answers for all our questions to fill in the gaps in Jesus’ life and explain the mysteries. But John insists that we have just enough that we might believe in Jesus Christ and have life in His name. If everything were written down the world could not contain all the books but these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing you might have life in His name.
Just days after Christmas, with all the details of the Christmas story fresh in our minds, all the gaps in the story also fresh in our minds. Where did the Magi come from? What about Joseph and Mary – who were they really? But to all our curious questions, John tells us simply that Scripture is true and Scripture is enough – all we need to believe in Jesus Christ for ourselves and to proclaim Him to the world.
Scripture is true. It seems straight forward enough. By why is it true? It is not true because I believe it. God said it. I believe it. That makes it so. That’s what the bumper sticker says. But it is wrong. My believing it has nothing to do with it. Scripture is true because God spoke it and God is truth; His Word cannot lie or deceive. Period. It is His own Word not because we declare it to be, not because those who spoke it declared it to be, but because God declares it to be His Word. That is part of the revelation of Jesus Christ – that Jesus claimed the Scriptures of the Jews to be God’s Word, and with His own voice spoke the truth of the Father to us. My believing has little to do with the truthfulness of Scripture.
This is what John is telling us. John does not guarantee the truthfulness of God’s Word – He writes as a witness to the truth of God, recording what He has heard and seen from Jesus Christ. John writes as one who heard the Word first spoken through the mouth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He writes it as witness to what He saw Jesus do. He writes is as witness but not as author – it remains God’s word.
And Scripture is enough. It is enough for us in spite of all the blank spaces, dead ends, unanswered questions, and mysteries left unexplained... God’s Word is enough to make known Jesus Christ and His salvation to us – and for us to make Jesus Christ known to others. God’s Word is true. God’s Word is truth. God’s Word is sufficient. That is the message of John to every age and generation, especially to our own age and generation with all our questions, curious natures, and doubts.
John writes as witness – as One who saw and heard with his own eyes and ears, the Word made flesh who for us and for our salvation gave Himself into our death to bestow upon His life. And as witness writing words of witness for every generation, John admits that the world could not contain all that Jesus said and did – not because He talked and acted non-stop but because the printed page and human language cannot contain the fullness of the mystery of this Word made flesh for us and our salvation. God presents this mystery to us not for us to understand but to accept, to believe. We own the Mystery of the Word made flesh when we come to the manger with faith to meet in the face of this Child the Son of God.
John writes to give not an exhaustive definition of God and the Mystery of the Incarnation but to give us enough, just enough to believe... Sufficient revelation not to answer all our questions but to make known Jesus Christ to us, and through us to others. Here is it, He says, and in that Word there is enough for the Spirit to work to bring you to saving faith, that you might own the mystery of Jesus Christ as your own. Here is enough for you to believe and if you testify to this, it will be enough for others to come to faith through your own witness. John’s witness is enough for us and for our witness.
So here we are.... only days from Christmas... We know its story by heart. Angels and swaddling clothes. Shepherds and Magi. Full inns and a bright star. Joseph and Mary. Jesus the long promised Son of God in our own human flesh and blood. It is not all that we might want to know... but it is enough to reveal to us what is essential to see the Mystery of the Word made flesh, to own the Mystery of the Word made flesh by faith, and to proclaim the Mystery of the Word made flesh to others.
Too much information does not clarify. We have all been in those awkward moments when someone gave us more information than we bargained for. It seldom clarifies and usually muddies up the waters. God does not appeal to our reason or understanding. He calls us to faith. He has given us just enough to believe. To meet Jesus in the manger... to walk with Him to the cross... to marvel at His empty tomb... to be born anew in the water where He has placed His name... to be nurtured on the Word that has the power to do what is says... and to be fed and nourished by the bread that is His body and the cup which is His blood...
He is the Word made flesh... the Word spoken by the apostles and evangelists of old... the Word written and proclaimed from printed page... Here is where we meet the Christ of the manger... Here is where our hearts are born anew to faith... Here is where we confront the limits of our reason and understanding, where we lay down our questions, doubts and fears... Here is where heaven touches earth and salvation is revealed... And we are given just enough that we might believe and be saved... Just enough that we might proclaim it to everyone, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to all the ends of the world.
If it were up to me, I would have had God take a good stab at filling the earth with all the words that disclose Himself and His ways to us. But God has disclosed to us one Word – the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, our Lord. And He has given us just enough in His Word, the Scriptures, to know Jesus Christ. The Word that is true, the Word that is enough, to make known to us Jesus Christ and His salvation. Amen