Intimacy with God

Intimacy with God

Homily for Christmas I

December 31, 2023

Intimacy with God

Homily for Sunday, December 31, 2023

The First Sunday After Christmas

John 1:1-18

From St.John’s Gospel….

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

The differences between St. John’s Gospel and the other, so-called “Synoptic” Gospels are well-documented:  ; in John, there are no exorcisms; in John,Jesus tells no parables; in John, Jesus does not perform miracles but rather “signs;”in John, Jesus visits Jerusalem not once but three times; in John, Jesus tends to speak not in short Synoptic bursts but in long “discourses.”

Discipleship, too, is different in John than in the Synoptics. In the Synoptics, disciples are called to leave everything and follow (e.g., Matt 4:18-22); to listen to and to obey Jesus’ teachings (e.g., Luke6:20; 11:28); to “have faith” (e.g., Matt 17:20); to be not first but last (Matt 20:26-28), and to take up their cross (Mark 8:34).  In John, on the other hand, the primary thing a disciple does is “believe.”   “Believe” not in a sense of “I intellectually assent to this or that proposition,” but “believe” in a sense of “I trust in this enough to orient my life to it.”  And belief results in a different outcome for discipleship in John than in the Synoptics. If in the Synoptics the goal of discipleship is to be sent to make more disciples – as in Matthew, Jesus’ final words to the disciples are, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (28:19) – in John, the goal of a disciple’s belief is intimacy, intimacy with Jesus and through Jesus with the Father.   

The intimacy that results from belief in Jesus is alluded to in the opening verses of St. John’s Gospel that we just heard.   In these verses not only does John paint a picture of Jesus’ intimacy with the Father – Jesus, the “Word,” “was in the beginning with God,” writes John, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – but also, toward the end of this morning’s passage, John writes of the intimacy Jesus offers us:

No one has ever seen God [John writes]. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Because Jesus is close to the Father’s heart, by being Jesus’ disciples – by “receiving” Jesus and “believing in his name,” to use John’s language – we, too, can come to know the Father.  And bit by bit throughout his Gospel, John builds for us his picture of the intimacy we can have with Jesus and the Father.  For example, if in the Synoptics when Jesus calls the first disciples they leave everything and follow, immediately commencing their work, in John the first thing the disciples ask Jesus is:  “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And “they came and saw where he was staying,and they remained with him that day”(4:38-39); there is no work to be done, no task to be accomplished, but only “remaining” with Jesus.   If in Mark,Jesus’ first miracle is the casting out of a demon (1:21-26), suggesting the urgency of Jesus’ mission; in John, Jesus’ first miracle or “sign” happens at a wedding (at which he changed water into wine), suggesting that, “This sort of intimate union – a marriage – is the kind of relationship I seek with you.”  In John chapter 3 Jesus speaks one-on-one, intimately, with Nicodemus. In John chapter 4 Jesus converses one-one-one, intimately, with the woman at the well.  Later in his Gospel, at the Last Supper, in an intimate gesture Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.  And moments later, echoing the first disciples’ “remaining” with Jesus, Jesus compares himself to a vine and urges his disciples to remain, or “abide,” with him:

I am the vine;you are the branches… Abide in me as I abide in you. (15:4,5)

But perhaps the most intimate scene toward which John builds his Gospel involves the so-called “Beloved Disciple.”  In chapter 13, just after Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, in a passage echoing this morning’s Gospel in which Jesus “is close to the Father’s heart,” John writes: “One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining close to his heart” (13:23).  “This is what I offer you,” John’s Jesus says.  “Just as I am close to the Father’s heart, so can you, too, through me be close to the Father’s heart.  And though no one has ever seen God, through believing in me, you can share in my intimate relationship with the Father, and I will make the Father known to you.”

Already next Sunday Jesus will be an adult, and will be baptized and will commence his earthly ministry.  And Mark, from whose Gospel we hear in the coming year, [Mark] time and again express the urgency of Jesus’ mission –“immediately,” Mark writes again and again; “immediately” Jesus did this or Jesus did that.  I wonder if, each year on the First Sunday After Christmas the lectionary places before us the opening of John’s Gospel in order to remind us of the importance not only of going out and proclaiming the Good News, which our world urgently needs, but also of the necessity of abiding, remaining, with Jesus, who invites us into intimate relationship with him and through him with the Father, a relationship without which our actions would be unrooted busy-ness and unlikely to bear fruit.  

In his Gospel, John never names the Beloved Disciple.  I wonder, does John leave the Beloved Disciple unnamed so that we might imagine ourselves into his place, imagining ourselves reclining close to Jesus’ heart?  I wonder…

Another place the Beloved Disciple appears in St. John’s Gospel is at the foot of the cross, where he stands with Jesus’ mother.  From the cross Jesus says to his mother:

“Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple,“Here is your mother.”  And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home (19:26-27).  

Of St. John’s Gospel, referring to this and also to the passage in which the Beloved Disciple reclined close to Jesus’ heart, the third-century theologian Origen wrote that if we wish to understand St. John’s Gospel, we must first like the Beloved Disciple recline close to Jesus’ heart and also take his mother into our own home. I pray that we, as we begin a new year and a new series of readings from St. Mark’s very busy Gospel, [I pray that we] may remember that today, on the First Sunday After Christmas, St. John told us of the intimate relationship that is between Jesus and the Father and how Jesus invites us to share in that relationship.  And I pray, too, that as we begin a busy year, we may take Origen’s words to heart and may ask God for the grace to find time to simply “remain” with Jesus, to recline close to his heart, and to take Jesus’ mother into our own home.

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