Psalm 97, Isaiah 6: 1 – 13 and Revelation 1: 1 – 20
The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory. Psalm 97: 6
And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’. Isaiah 6: 3
In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. Revelation 1: 16
Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it being enlightened by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen Collect for Saint John the Evangelist’s Day
The Church year moves on apace, and as this Sunday is dedicated to Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, we leave behind the Nativity and for today remember John the beloved disciple. Something striking when reading through today’s Bible passages was the importance of light in relation to the glory of God. It is no accident that one of the ‘I am’ statements John records in his gospel is ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8: 12). We associate darkness with sin and light with purity, and recognise that light penetrating the darkness uncovers things concealed. The all-penetrating light of Jesus shines into the dark recesses of people’s hearts. Jesus gives us light to illuminate our way through life, and the same picture is used in Psalm 119: 105 for the beneficial effect of using God’s Word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. Similarly, Jesus expects Christians to reflect that light in their lives. In Matthew 5: 14 he tells us we are the light of the world and should not hide our light under a bushel basket.
Light is one of the most notable features in accounts of heaven. I have been reading an interesting book by David Oliver, entitled ‘All About Heaven’. As well as a thorough explanation of heaven from Biblical evidence, he includes a chapter of eyewitness accounts from a number of people who have had ‘near death experiences’. The brightness of the welcoming light is mentioned in all these accounts, as is the vibrancy of colours.
As well as people like Ezekiel, Daniel and Paul who were given visions of heaven, in today’s readings we have the vision given to Isaiah in Isaiah chapter six, and the start of The Revelation to John. Isaiah’s immediate impression is of the glory emanating from the throne of God, extending from heaven to fill the whole earth. Having wondered at the loftiness of the throne and seen the seraphs flying in attendance, he hears the call of the seraphs as they cry out in worship, ‘Holy, holy, holy’. This prompts Isaiah to realise his own unworthiness until the live coal is brought to touch his unclean lips, removing his sin. Then comes his commission to be a messenger to take warnings and prophecies to a human audience.
By the time John received his revelation (thought be around AD95) he was an old man living on the island of Patmos, banished by the Emperor Domitian. As a young disciple and Jesus’ closest friend, he had by now probably outlived most of his contemporaries. Jerusalem had been sacked in AD70 and an extended period of persecution was causing great suffering to the maturing churches. The letters to the seven churches that follow our reading are only the prelude to the heavenly visions imparted to John in the rest of the book. The first chapter invites us to share his vision as a matter of urgency; verse 1 speaks of events that were shortly to take place, while verse 3 describes the time as being near. Historians and theologians agree that some of the visions and prophecies related to some of the political upheavals going on at the time, while other portions predict events that we await.
The important point to remember as we have recently marked another season of Advent and re-lived the account of the Incarnation, is that we should be in a constant state of readiness. In verse 7 John demands our attention: ‘Look! He is coming in the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail’. This wailing applies in the sense of horror and remorse of all who have rejected the overtures of love from heaven to earth, expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, the return of Jesus is something about which we can be truly excited.
As we approach the beginning of another year, may we gather up all those Advent thoughts of expectation and apply them positively into a New Year, walking in the light of truth in active service for God’s Kingdom – just as the Apostle John served so faithfully through his long life.
WISHING YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR