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John 1,6-8, 19-28 Witness to the light

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Witness to the Light – John 1:5-8; 19-28

5 The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

6 God sent John the Baptist 7 to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.

19 This was the testimony of John when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants  from Jerusalem to ask John whether he claimed to be the Messiah. 20 He flatly denied it. “I am not the Messiah,” he said.

21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”

“No,” he replied.

“Are you the Prophet?”

“No.”

22 “Then who are you? Tell us, so we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah:

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming!’ ” 

24 Then those who were sent by the Pharisees 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”

26 John told them, “I baptize with  water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not know, 27 who will soon begin his ministry. I am not even worthy to be his slave. ” 28 This incident took place at Bethany, a village east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

Christmas is often not a very bright time of the year for many people. Besides the global battle-cries and political unrest in all of the world, there are also countless winds and storms that threaten to blow out the sometimes low flickering candle of our spiritual life. Relationships between famlies and friends are hanging by thread; emotions and tensions run high, and are often accelerated by the pressures to cook the right meals, buy the right gifts, and on and on.

This perennial confusion that seems to surface always around Christmas serves as a powerful reminder of the Jewish experience during the time of the prophet Isaiah.

“Behold, the people walking in darkness…” Indeed, at the time of Jesus’ birth the people were again walking in darkness. Even our ancestors when they left Russia in the midst of communist tyrany and war, were walking in darkness. In every generation the people seem to be walking in darkness.

But, someone said, there is no night so dark that a little candle cannot break its darkness. That is also what John tells us in his Gospel, 5 The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. The darkness can never extinguish it. This sounds as simple as “Rock-Paper-Sissors”. It doesn’t matter how hard the darkness tries, it can never extinguish the light of even the smallest candle.

ILL.: In his book, The Body, Charles Colson writes, Pastor Laszlo Tokes became too successful in the eyes of his Romanian government.  He preached the gospel boldly and within two years his small church grew to 5,000.  The authorities confiscated his ration book so he couldn't buy fuel or food.  Then in December 1989, they decided to exile him. When the police arrived they were stopped by an unmovable crowd of people. Members of other churches and denominations stood shoulder to shoulder in protest. All day, the police tried to disperse the crowd but they wouldn't budge. Just after midnight a 19 year old Baptist student named Daniel Garva, pulled out a packet of candles. He lit one and passed it to his neighbor. One by one the burning candles were passed through the crowd. The crowd stayed all through that night and the next. The police finally broke through and knocked in the church door. They bloodied Pastor Tokes' face then paraded both him and his wife through the crowd. An outcry from the people led them to their city square of Timisoara where they began a full-scale demonstration against the Communist government. Once again, Daniel Gavra passed out his candles. Troops were brought in and ordered to shoot the crowd. Hundreds were shot and Daniel had his leg blown off. Their brave example inspired the entire population of Romania and within days the bloody dictator Ceausescu was dead. For the first time in half a century, Romania celebrated Christmas in freedom. In a world of hostile darkness, God has called us to light a candle of love. Although the presentation of His Light may not be favorably received, such faithfulness will yield results beyond our grandest dreams. When the Light of Bethlehem shone in the darkness of Romania, people saw the Morning Star. 

God reaches into the darkest corners of our lives. The light of his love infects us in such a way that we are compelled to witness to the light.

ILL.: Some years ago, on returning from a business trip, a man brought his wife some souvenirs. Among them was a matchbox that would glow in the dark. After giving it to her, he turned out the light, but the object was not visible. "This must be a joke!" she said. Disappointed, the husband commented, "I've been cheated!" Then his wife noticed some French words on the box. Taking it to a friend who knew the language, she was told that the directions read: "If you want me to shine at night, keep me in the sunlight all day." So she put her gift in a south window. That evening when she turned out the light, the matchbox had a brilliant glow. The surprised husband asked, "What did you do?" "Oh, I found the secret," she said. "Before it can shine in the dark, it must be exposed to the light." Just as the matchbox, having been exposed to the sun, took on the nature of the sun and began to shine, so we too as Christians must constantly be exposed to Christ’s radiant love so that we may take on his nature and shine as lights in a dark world.

The Gospel of John is a book of "signs" -- namely things and people who point to something else. Such "signs" or “witnesses” are necessary for people to come to faith. For example, John points two of his disciples to the Lamb of God (1:35-39) – he witnessed to them. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus (1:40-42). Philip tells Nathanael about the promised one from Nazareth (1:45-50). They are witnesses of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Even Jesus, as the "logos" -- the "Word" or "Revealer" of God – is a witness to God’s reconciling love. This is the theme and purpose of the entire gospel of John: "These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31).

John is sent to be a witness ("martyreo") the word from which the word martyr is derived. A literal reading of v. 7 says: "That one came as a witness so that he might witness concerning the light, so that all might believe through him." The purpose of his coming and his witnessing is to point to the light so that others might believe.

ILL.: A Chinese farmer, who had been blinded by cataracts went to a Christian Medical compound and was healed through a symple surgery . Overjoyed because he was able to see again, he left the compound and went into the far interior of China. A few days later the missionary doctor looked out of his bamboo window and noticed this formerly blind man holding the front end of a long rope. In single file and holding onto the rope behind him were several dozen blind Chinese people whom the farmer had rounded up and led for miles to the doctor who had worked the "miracle" on his eyes.  There is no more powerful recommendation then speaking out of our own experiences of healing and restoration to others. Having seen the light this man brought others to the Giver of light. He didn’t point to himself and his special privilege of being among the “seeing” – but he showed them the way to the one who opened his blind eyes.

John the Baptist was not just any man. He had been sent by God (v. 6). John was part of a divine plan. He came to give witness to the light of the world, so that others might believe through the life-giving presence of the light.

John had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation, and we too are invited to join in and accept our part in God's divine plan of salvation in our day. Jesus makes us part of this plan when he says: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." We are not just ordinary people any longer, but we are part of God's continuing plan of salvation for the world.

John the Baptist witness to God’s great light to the Jews. Daniel Gavra passed out candles in a brutal communist regime in Romania. The Matchbox lights up in the dark and gives testimony to the rays of light that it has been exposed to during the day. The blind Chinese farmer gives witness of the light to his friends in the back country of China.

John states clearly that he is not the light. He is very clear about who he is not. He is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not one of the prophets (vv. 20-21). And then he talks with equally great conviction about who he is: "I am the voice crying, “Prepare the way in the wilderness…” (v. 23). “Pass on the candles…” “Take hold of the rope…”

ILL.: Tony Campolo, in his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, tells this story:

I was gone with some churchmen to Grand Junction. My wife was home with our girls, ages 2 and 4. She was in the kitchen when there was a knock at the door at about 10:30 p.m. With great caution and fear she opened the door. She saw the face of a frightened nine year old boy. He said that his father was beating up his mother and asked Connie if she would call the police. Of course she did, as well as bring the boy in to comfort him. He told a sad story of regularly being locked in a closet while his father would beat his mother. But this night he had escaped the closet and the mother screamed for him to get help. My wife asked why he chose to come to our house. His response was that when he came outside everything was black, but he could see that our light was on. He said that he ran to the light. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. Let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father. You cannot always control where you will be set down in this life. But you certainly can control what happens there. You have it within your power to turn the place where you work into a party, providing that you, yourself, have become a party person.

ILL.: A poor little boy once heard his Sunday School teacher say that Jesus is the light of the world. He took her remark quite literally. After class, the boy said to his teacher, "If Jesus really is the light of the world, I wish he'd come hang out in my alley. It's awfully dark where I live."

Like John the Baptist, Daniel Garva, the glowing Matchbox, and the Chinese farmer, God has thrown the radiance of His eternal light on you and me. In our homes, in our realtionships at work, at church, and at play may we be faithful witnesses to the light of God that has come into our world. In this Christmas season let us remember that “there is no night so dark that a little candle cannot break its darkness.”

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