The December 13 window opens to the fourth gospel-the eagle symbol of the evangelist John.
Since the Christian community's earliest days, the eagle has represented John. The eagle is, of course, a creature of the sky, soaring above with a God's eye view of things. John's gospel does not begin with mundane birth records or the Baptist's cry. Rather, it opens with a majestic vision: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In contrast to the other three books, John's story is set in a different landscape-a heavenly one.
Throughout its pages, John's prose soars to poetic heights: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door; I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and life; I am the way, and the truth, and the life; I am the true vine. "As the Father has loved me," Jesus prayed, "so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love."
And, in John's tale, the Word is revealed as Wisdom. In modernity, Christians equated the Word with knowledge about God. The "Word" is propositional truth, a set of philosophical ideas about God that we assent to in order to become Christians. But John taught otherwise. The Word is Wisdom, a kind of knowing that pushes past intellectual certainty toward Sophia, the love-drenched way of life directed toward God and neighbor. The Word is God. The infant Jesus is Holy Wisdom.
Anglican priest Robin Griffith-Jones says that the central question of the gospels is: Who do you say that I am? Each evangelist offers a different vision: Matthew's Jesus is the new Moses; Mark's is the suffering King; Luke's is the friend and teacher of the people; and John's is divine Love. Winged human, lion, ox, and eagle. Four portraits of the child born on Christmas Day.
Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) wanted to open her Advent calendar in community this year, and she is sharing her daily reflections with Sojourners readers online. She is the author of the forthcoming A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (March 2009).
Diana's Advent Calendar resumes on Monday.