The 7th Day in the Octave of Christmas
1 John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18
You don’t have to know the second law of thermodynamics to know that everything put together tends to fall apart. Anyone who has owned a house or car knows very well the time and effort it takes to keep them in good condition. The same is true for our relationships; we tend to get out of them just about what we put in.
Thank God that isn’t true on the divine side; as John reminded us in today’s gospel, God has put everything into his relationship with us, to the point of taking flesh and dwelling among us. Not only that, as John also said, He pours grace upon grace on us, infinitely; for we never get a part of God, we always get everything.
So, why is it, in the presence of this infinite grace, that even by the time John wrote his first letter, we are hearing about antichrists and disunity within the nascent Church?
John gives us a clue to the answer when he says that to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God (John 1:12). There it is: acceptance. Even infinite grace does no good unless it is accepted; the light of Christ must be chosen. And that is precisely the problem, as Christ himself says later in this same gospel: … this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness (John 3:19).
But wait, we might think, I don’t prefer darkness. I love Christ; aren’t I in the light? This is exactly the question the Evangelist wants us to ask! Perhaps you’ve noticed that John uses terms that sound a lot like a court room: testimony; testify; witness; verdict. That’s because his gospel is a trial; only, Christ is the judge, we are the defendants, and the question before the court is: Do we love him and are we committed to following him?
We might answer as before: Yes, I love Christ and am committed to following him. But then, God is the judge, commitment is what he says it is, and, as the gospel shows, he sees commitment as total. By entering our world, taking human flesh, lifting it up on the cross, and drawing all people to himself, he showed love and commitment to the death and beyond. Thankfully, our Lord in his infinite mercy knows this is a standard we can never reach, so he doesn’t ask that; he asks only that we accept the truth about him and remain in unity with him.
That sounds easy, but as John knew in the early Church, it’s not. We know from our own experience, too: It’s far easier to accept what I understand, agree with, or what fits into my existing beliefs. But this attitude betrays a lack of faith; I don’t believe God, I believe myself. The result? What John saw: Lack of commitment, disunity, and discord.
Let us use this last day of the calendar year to do two things. First, look back and make an honest assessment; ask yourself, “Have I put in the time and effort it takes to have a good, healthy relationship with Almighty God?” In those places where I’m lacking, let me use the example of Christ, who loved as God loves. How do I do that? First, by developing more empathy for people. What are their struggles? What does life look like through their eyes? Second, by being concerned about them. When I ask how they are, do I really mean it? Third, by caring for them. Their life matters to God, so it matters to me. What can I do to help them? Finally, by self-sacrifice; committing to do whatever it is that needs to be done. All these Jesus did; his actions are our model.
Second, let us look forward and resolve to make sure that our commitment to Christ is total; to remember, as St. Therese once said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” While hearing this might tempt us to think that there are saints and then there are the rest of us, nothing could be further from the truth. Salvation for all humankind rests on the fact that God measures us not by our success but by our faithfulness. Commitment does not require perfection, it requires perseverance; therefore, let us ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our resolve to answer by the witness of our lives the deepest question Christ asks: “Who did you say that I am?”