The way we do Mass, or worship service, here this morning, has not always been the same. As Christians, how we praise God constantly changes. Across different Christian groups, how someone worships can vary. Some groups worship God in traditional ways, with very old songs and very old ceremonies. Some groups worship God with a lot of singing and dancing and movement. Some group of Christians worship God with very little movement. Some groups worship in their native language. Some groups worship in very old languages. Some groups worship God by speaking tongues. There’s a lot of traditions and ceremonies added by some groups over time. Many traditions have been dropped over the centuries as well.
I want to draw your attention to one particular tradition that is no longer used by many Christians. I want to mention this tradition because it uses the words of today’s Gospel.
When Mass is over—when the priest says something like, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, and the people respond, “Thanks be to God”—that’s usually the end of Mass. There may be a song or two, but after that, the Mass is over. However, before it was changed in the mid-20th Century, there was a tradition where after the priest would say, “Go in peace, etc.”, then he would immediately begin reciting what was then called the Last Gospel. The Last Gospel is taken from the words of the Gospel according to St. John that we heard today. It always struck me as odd that the priest would say, “The Mass is ended,” and then it really wouldn’t be over. But, that aside, what does this Last Gospel mean and what does it say to us today?
These words of St. John, the words which used to be said at the end of every Mass, seem to provide a very mystical summary of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Just like John 3:16 seems to so compactly state the message of Christianity, I think John’s Gospel todays does the same thing.
The Word, spoken of in the Gospel is meant to mean Jesus. For Jesus is the Word, the Beloved Son of the Father. Jesus is God made in our image. To think that God Himself put on flesh to become one of us says an awful lot about us just as it does about God. To think that God saw humanity and found it worthy to bear the very person of God in Jesus Christ is powerful. To know that God thinks we are worthy to bear His Son is something we can reflect on when we are feeling pretty awful at the state of the world or even ourselves. When we don’t think we aren’t worthy or being loved or accepted, remember that God thought we were good enough to become one of us. When we feel we are unworthy of love because of something we have done or something we are ashamed of, remember that God know that we are good enough. When we look at the world hopelessly and think all is lost, remember that God came to Earth and lived among us.
The Gospel writer says in today’s reading that John the Baptist “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (John 1:7) We are called to do the same as well. As Christians we are called to testify to the light found in Jesus Christ. We are called to testify to the truth that has been revealed through Jesus. In Him, there is no darkness. In Him, the truth—that all of humanity is part of God’s beautiful creation—is and ought to be a part of our everyday reality. The work of testifying to God means living that love in the world as much as we are able, even in the smallest of ways. Smiling to your neighbor, giving a kind word instead of condemnation, being selfless instead of selfish—these are all ways to witness like John the Baptist of the saving love of Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift.
Perhaps the reason priests always said this Gospel at the end of Mass was to point to that purpose—that we are all called to testify to the world about God. It might help to think of our worship service today as a sort of break from the world, where we come to adore God at the altar today. Then, when the worship service is over, we do the real work of building the kingdom of God.
We are a people called to spread the Good News and to live it out. Let us live out our call as witnesses to the Great King who has set us free to sing and announce his coming.
December 30, 2018
First Sunday after Christmas
First Reading: Isaiah 61:10- 62:3
Epistle: Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Gospel: John 1:1-18
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at email@example.com.