In a very different way we celebrate discipleship of another kind. While martyrdom was the result for many in the early church, not all of Jesus' disciples met such a death. Some of them lived to an old age, and their ministry and witness was a benefit to the church riddled by attack, torture and abuse. John was one of those whose presence in the community of faith gave hope and encouragement to the life of the body of Christ.
Perhaps John's greatest contribution came in the form of his writings. The great gospel that bears his name, his letters, and the Revelation all serve to give the people of God words of grace for troubled hearts and times. It is not by chance that words are John's greatest weapon. John, after all, begins his gospel with a celebration of the Word. John also introduces us to the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; the bread from heaven; the light of the world; the gate for the sheep; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth and the life; and the true vine.
Thus, we encounter on this third day of Christmas the power of words. They show us the Living Word. They help us to express our deepest understandings of God revealed in human flesh. Our witness will not always come in martyrdom. They will also come through words that show forth the Word who became flesh and lived among us.
Our words have serious consequences for those who receive them. Our words have the power to heal broken hearts, to repair severed relationships, to offer hope to the discouraged. Our words can also become weapons which wound, fracture and devastate. We are reminded by St. John to choose our words wisely. Our words are in fact the deeds of the mouth. They are our actions in communication. As people who have walked in darkness and now seen a great Light, we must offer the world words of genuine peace and reconciliation.
As I write this, we have seen the results of words. Words of hate have led to the killing of more than 130 children in Pakistan this week. They have led to the killing of two police officers in an ambush and assassination-style killing. They have led to black men and women to be terrorized in their homes and throughout their daily lives. Words like this need to be silenced. They must once and for all be put to death. The Word who came to us in our flesh has made a way for us to kill these kinds of words. He gives us the power to be called the sons and daughters of God, which means we belong to a New Family with a New Language.
For now we live in a stage of transition, where the words have hate must continue to die. We look for signs of New Words bursting forth. They will be words of kindness, peace and generosity. They will offer hope for a better day coming into this world. And while we might be tempted to imagine that this New World is only possible in some future place far away from where we live, we must remember that New Words are given to us every time we gather in worship and around God's table. Those New Words are life changing, but they are forever bringing the New Creation: This is my body broken for you...This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Do this often and in remembrance of me.
May on this third day of Christmas give us New Words for the New Reality given to us by the Lord of the New Creation.
Everlasting God, you inspired John the evangelist to use words to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. Give us eyes which see your words and heed them. Give us eyes which will enlighten your church with the brightness of your light. Illuminate our hearts with the words of Jesus, so that we may live out your words of truth and receive the grace of life abundant, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.