I once tried to sum up why I love this feast:
Of all the Christmas feasts which follow thick and fast after the Nativity of Our Lord, I think I like St John’s best. He is the most poetic of the evangelists: a man who had learned ‘how to bear the beames of love’ and who reflects the beautiful light of the Word made flesh, as stars reflect the light of the sun. But there is more to John than beauty. There is grace and truth, again reflecting the grace and truth of the Word, and there is strength.
Truth needs strength otherwise it easily becomes something less — mere criticism, perhaps, or the kind of grumbling that achieves nothing except to make both grumbler and audience weary. St John is the most mystical of the evangelists not because he wrote beautifully, or because he reflected the grace and truth of the Word made flesh, but because he he was strong — strong in faith and love. It enabled him to see what others could only guess at, gave him the courage to explore what others might shy away from, kept him at the foot of the cross when he was tempted to run away. He was a true contemplative.
Whether we think of John as the young Galilean fisherman, the old man in Ephesus, the mystic on Patmos or simply ‘the author of the Fourth Gospel’ matters not a whit. John understood the nature of mystery. In secular parlance, mystery tends to mean no more than something we can’t fully grasp, a puzzle of little consequence; but to the Christian, mystery goes far beyond that. It is a secret we can know only because God has revealed it to us — a wonder and a joy, as in the holy Eucharist. John’s writings are full of mystery in this sense and take us very close to the mystery of God’s being. In his gospel, as in his letters, he expresses this through images of light and love, word and silence, hinting at what can be known only through faith. In our own lives, too, there must be something of the same light and love, word and silence, the same quest for God through prayer and sacrifice and fidelity to the covenant God has made with us.
All this — our understanding of the mystery and our eagerness to pursue it — comes to us as sheer gift, a gift given by our incorporation into Christ at baptism. It is the source of our strength, of the grace and truth by which we live, and it is our ultimate destiny, for one day we shall see Him as He really is. (1 John 3.2) That is a promise that goes far beyond anything we can think or dream of, but one we too often ignore. May the prayers of St John help us recognize it and respond wholeheartedly today.