Editor’s note: A version of this column first appeared on Christmas Eve 2017. It has been adapted to reflect the current situation in America as managing editor Josh Edwards is on vacation.
Every Christmas, I have a single wish.
All I hope and pray for is that people follow a short piece of advice offered by a wise, elderly man.
Compacted into one sentence is wisdom that could change the world for the better, if only we would listen. What better time than now to hear it again as our country slips further into division over racism and safety precautions to shield us from the coronavirus?
The man, known as a great preacher and writer, was in his 90s by the time he offered these words. Time had left his body weak, but his mind was still sharp. He was unable to stand on his own. Yet every week, his friends carried him into church.
This beloved preacher was highly sought after. His writings are an international best seller, and I would almost guarantee most of you own some of his work.
Because of his fame, people came from far and wide and waited with bated breath for his words.
Despite old age and brittle bones, every Sunday the man would prop himself up on one elbow and say in a weak voice a single sentence.
“Little children, love one another.”
Week in, and week out, he offered the same message. Hungry for more or perhaps angry at the short sermons by the great preacher, someone eventually asked, “Why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing?”
The wise old man responded: “Because it is enough.”
The scene could have played out in any church on any given Sunday, but this particular preacher was John the Apostle, who spent years as a personal companion of Jesus.
John was likely a young teen when he and his brother James left their father’s fishing boat to follow Jesus. Christian tradition indicates John was near 100 when he died. He wrote extensively, though by the end of his life, he had compacted the foundation of Christianity into one sentence.
His words are short and simple and echo the ones he records Jesus sharing.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you,” Jesus tells the Apostles in John 15:12, followed five verses later by “This I command you: love one another.”
Jesus doesn’t command to only love those who are easy to love or those with whom we agree. He teaches unconditional, merciful love and constant forgiveness. John saw this first-hand, and he took every chance he could to remind the church of Christ’s commandment.
We need plenty of reminding, perhaps even an entire army of modern-day Johns spreading the message. This year has been particularly difficult, and the nation appears to be more divided than united. A little kindness, respect and forgiveness would help us grow, heal and mature.
Growth and healing are central to the Christian message, and the themes are explored deeply in John’s writings. Though John stood alongside Jesus and offered a succinct explanation of Christian values, his work is often neglected at Christmas, when I tend to think about him most.
In his Gospel, John offers us no wise men, no beaming star and no heartwarming manger-side scene. Those wonderful tales are reserved for Matthew and Luke. But no other author spells out the reason for celebrating Christmas in quite the way John does.
“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 came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
May that grace, truth and love be with you always.