Sunday, December 17, 2017

Testifying to the light

John 1:6-8, 19-28

How important is light to you? … Very, of course. We need light to do just about everything. … How important is dark to you? … Not as much, unless we’re trying to sleep or develop film. Then, dark is very important.

It seems that usually good things happen in the light, and bad things often happen in the dark. The dark itself is not bad, but darkness lets bad things happen more easily. Theft, murder, kidnapping, driving the wrong way on the highway, all happen more in the dark than in the light.

Bad behavior, sin, evil, all happen in the metaphorical dark. Sexual misconduct; spouse, child and elder abuse; embezzlement; racism; cheating on tests; cheating on taxes; the use of substandard building materials; paying less than the minimum wage; oppression of those who are different: these activities all persist because they occur in the metaphorical dark.

When light is shed on such activity, the perpetrators fall from power. And light is shined into the hearts of those who have been living in darkness.

… John the Baptist is in the Judean wilderness baptizing people who have been living in metaphorical darkness. He calls them into a better relationship with God through baptism and forgiveness. John refuses to claim any fame or power for himself, but constantly points to Jesus as the one who brings the light. Jesus is so much more important, he is light shining in all the dark places of the world.

The Gospel of John recounts the changed lives of those who met Jesus. In these stories, Jesus shines light into the lives of those who believe in him.

·         Nicodemus shows up in the dark of night, and ends by helping to bury Jesus, fully in the light.

·         The woman at the well finds living water in Jesus as he shines light on her past – whatever pain it holds – and accepts her for who she is. She can’t wait to tell others about the light Jesus brings.

·         The man who was born blind has his eyes healed so he can see the light, while those who knew him deny the light. The man doesn’t care. He is thrilled – now he can see!

·         Thousands who are hungry are fed, and the light shines in their lives at the sight of such abundance.

·         The woman caught in adultery has light shined into her heart, and at the same time, Jesus shines light onto the darkness in the hearts of her accusers.

… John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer both testify to Jesus as the Light coming into the world, into the lives of all who live in the dark. But, they should not be the only ones. Those whom Jesus en-lightened told others about the light. And  others and others and others have told the stories, shedding light through the generations. And now, it’s our turn.

It’s our turn to testify to the Light. Yes, I know, Lutherans don’t testify. It makes us uncomfortable. Especially if we are from Scandinavian heritage, testifying seems like we are talking about ourselves, and we don’t talk about ourselves. Testifying seems like we are bragging, and we don’t brag.

That is exactly the point John the Baptist is making. He isn’t bragging about himself as the witness. He is bragging about Jesus. He firmly points to Jesus as the Light.

When we witness – testify -  to the impact Jesus has had in our lives, we are not bragging. We are not shining a spotlight onto ourselves. We are shining a light on the Light that Jesus has brought into the darkness in our lives.

Here’s a testimony, one of my stories ... My brother Rob died when he was 19. He had been paranoid schizophrenic for several years after taking the drug PCP. He took it once, and it fried his brain, just like that egg in the old commercial about drugs.  He was miserable in his mental illness. The meds made him groggy, so he didn’t take them. And the demons took over, and he chose to end his life to put an end to the demons.

On Sunday, as the folks in my congregation learned of his death, many of them spoke with me. I don’t remember what they said, with one exception. Jill hugged me and said, “That’s really crappy.” She told the truth, and shed light onto the deep pain in my heart about my brother’s illness and death. Her words have stayed with me because she was testifying to my pain and to Jesus’ presence at the same time. Through Jill, I knew that Jesus knew my pain!

… There is darkness in all of our lives. Where has the darkness been in your lives? How did Jesus shine light into your darkness? I have discovered it’s usually through another person. Whom did Jesus send? I encourage you to identify those times of darkness and see how Jesus’ light shone and chased away most of the darkness.

There is also darkness in the lives of those you know, those you meet in the store or the hair salon or the golf course. Listen to them, and be prepared to shine some light into their darkness. Testify to them, by telling your own story. It doesn’t have to be a big story, or a long story. Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” Because you don’t.

Instead say, “Here is how it happened in my life.” And tell them how a friend said something that made a difference. Tell them how a baby’s laugh brightened your day just when you needed it. Tell them how a Bible story seemed like just your story.

You all have such stories. Take some time this week to look back and find them.  Try to tell them in a few sentences, and focus on how Jesus’ light made the difference for you. Then, be on the lookout for someone who needs to hear your story. Pay attention to the Spirit’s prompting, and speak. As you speak, God’s light will shine in your heart and in the heart of the one to whom you are speaking. Be brave, and be prepared to testify. The woman at the well did it. The blind man who can now see did it. You can do this, too!

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we know that you are the Light. Lead us to look for you today, and for those times when you have been with us in the past. Help us be ready with our stories, to testify to your presence, when someone we know is living in the darkness. Help us shine your Light into their lives. In your holy name, Amen