It was the day after Christmas. Saint John of the Mall was sitting in front of Barnes and Noble. Through the doorway we could see piles of books on tables. Every table had a sign: “Best books of 2016” and “Making the most of 2017” and “Clearance.”
“All those stories,” I said. “All that creativity. All those shelves. All those books.”
“You know,” John said, “if you took every conversation and comment that Jesus made, every action and miracle that Jesus did, and you started writing them out, they’d fill all these shelves.”
And then he caught himself. “Maybe not. There are a lot more books now than when he talked. A lot more noise. A lot more clutter. maybe.”
“A lot more clutter?” I said.
“Maybe,” John said. “But not everything that has been written since then is clutter. Some of it actually brings clarity. And Jesus said that he was sending the Holy Spirit to teach and remind us of what Jesus had said. So not everything written is clutter.”
I waited for him to mention my writings. But he didn’t.
“But some of what is written about Jesus and his life and his words doesn’t help,” he said. “When you look at the Gospel of John, you find the idea of editing – selecting some materials and not others – for a purpose. There were many words, many signs, many conversations that Jesus had. There could have been a comprehensive catalog, but, as you read, ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’”
I looked at him. “So the gospel isn’t a tell-all expose’? There is bias in the writing?”
John smiled. “The gospel writers weren’t historians. Not even Luke. They were witnesses, giving accounts of the birth and life and death and life again of Jesus. Enough witness to give an account. Enough teaching to live a life. Enough Jesus to reveal hope for the future.”
“It’s funny,” I said. “I wanted to talk about returns in this post, about all the people bringing Christmas presents back today because they weren’t quite right after all the expectations. But you are saying that Christmas never was about satisfied expectations.”
“I never knew anything about Christmas,” John said. “My life is all about advent. The first advent was about expecting a messiah. And the second advent, the one you and I share, has been about expecting the Messiah again. I gave up thinking that stuff would satisfy my expectations. But you know, knowing the one I’m expecting is pretty satisfying.”
I closed my eyes to figure that out. When I opened them, the bench was empty.
But I’m glad he’s been here this year. Advent seemed a little less frantic.