Joy for all the people!

Bishops VapenThis was the angel’s message to the shepherds outside Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born. And Bishop Jan-Olof Johansson has chosen it as his motto.

For Bishop Jan-Olof the Christmas message is central – that God became human and does so today and always, both in us as individuals and in his church. God is one of us. The Word becomes human. Faith becomes action. And so a truly human community is created which becomes a joy for all the people. In his commission to the disciples Jesus has extended this bringing of joy to the whole world.

That is why in the Bishop’s personal coat of arms the star of Bethlehem shines over the whole field and gleams at the very top of the Bishop’s staff. Bethlehem is also an important place for Bishop Jan-Olof. Since his student years he has returned there annually and has a strong commitment to the people of Bethlehem, principally through a girls’ school there, the Good Shepherd’s School.

The star of Bethlehem also has a connection with the bishop’s birthplace, Jönköping, through the song Gläns över sjö och strand (‘Radiance over Sea and Shore’) from Viktor Rydberg’s story Vapensmeden – Hägringar från reformationstiden (‘The Weapon Smith – Mirages from the Time of the Reformation’ – a Swedish classic) where the smith’s daughter sings it on a rowing trip on Lake Vättern.

The eagle is the symbol for John (in Swedish: Johannes), whose short form is Jan. Among the evangelists John is the one who most developed the theology about the birth of Jesus as God’s incarnation in the world. The eagle also brings to mind to Kalmar Sound and the Alvar (heath) on Öland where the eagle has in recent years found a place of refuge.  The axe in one of the eagle’s claws is the symbol of Saint Olof. The axe is also an indispensable tool for getting about in the forests of Småland where Bishop Jan-Olof has his roots.

In the first and fourth quarters of the coat of arms is the coat of arms of the Diocese. This is composed of three heads. They are Unaman, Sunaman and Vinaman, the three nephews of St Sigfrid, who were his companions on the missionary journey in Småland. They became the first Christian martyrs in what has since become Växjö diocese. They remind us of the task of mission and can also, along with the star of Bethlehem, make a link with the three wise men, who are often seen as an expression of the church’s international dimension.

The Bishop’s coat of arms carries the motto in relief, ‘Gaudium omni populo’ (‘Joy for all the people’). Through its restrained character, joy does not appear as something light-hearted and fitful but as joy in spite of everything. A joy in the struggle for God’s becoming human today, in order to make the divine human and the human divine in a complex life and a wounded world.

Translated from an article on the Diocese of Växjö web site.