Testimony Of Light

Sunday, 5 January 2020 12:00

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him (John 1:6)

Happy New Year! Here we are at the beginning of a new year and that’s, maybe, why the folk who compiled the lectionary chose John Chapter 1 for this Sunday: “In the beginning,” John begins, perhaps deliberately echoing of those first words from Genesis. So. Beginnings. Yes, I could take that as my theme and suggest some New Year resolutions for you, but I would never be so presumptuous - especially as I have given up so many of mine by about January 6th over the years. No, there is more to John’s choice of opening words than to anchor his words in the Jewish idea of beginnings. For in Genesis God’s first word - his first logos - is, “Let there be light!” and that’s John’s theme - the Light of the World that is Jesus.

Let’s talk about light. Why does it turn up so often in religious thought and here, especially, in John’s words and Gospel? Why is light important? I’m going to come over all science teacher now. Without life there is no life on earth - at least above its simplest form. Every plant relies on light to survive, to make food through the process of photosynthesis and every animal - including us relies on the food produced by plants to survive. First century people like John wouldn’t have known the chemistry of photosynthesis, but they would have known that plants thrive in the sunlight. That association between light and life has been with humanity from the earliest times.

To embrace Christ, the Light of the World, is to embrace life - a life that goes on beyond the limits of the years we spend on this earth and which reaches on into an eternity spent in the presence of the author of all light - the God who spoke light into being and who entered into his creation to offer that light - that life - to all who choose to embrace it. More than that, the coming of Christ into the world is about offering humanity light to allow us to thrive and grow and be all that we are meant to be by living this life in all its fulness.

Living a life that turns away from the shallow and empty promises of the world. The promise that we can be ever happier by acquiring more and more stuff, amassing more and more wealth. That our value, or that of others, can be measured by the number of likes we get on Facebook, or by the cost of the car we drive, or by the status of the job we do; a life that rejoices in the power of love to turn this world upside down and to touch the lives of others.

Let’s talk about light. Why is it important? Because it offers hope. It’s New Year. In times less long past than we sometimes realise Winter was a time of fear. Would you survive the dark months when stores of food were depleting, when hypothermia crouched coldly in the corner as the sun went down, when disease haunted the darkness? How the lengthening of days must have offered hope.

To embrace Christ, the Light of the World, is to embrace hope - a hope that isn’t just for some of God’s children, but for all. A hope that one day the darkness will be done away with forever - when there will be no cause for fear; when there will be no more war and no more hunger and greed; when every eye will be dried. A hope that we transmit every time we care for others in their fear or their hunger or their pain or their loss.

Let’s talk about light. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light , so that all might believe,”. That was then. This is now. Who, today, are the people who are sent as a witness to testify to the light? That’s us. That’s the Church. It’s you. It’s me. 

Maybe we’ve lost track of that. When I use the word, “church”, for how many of you is the first image that comes into your mind a building like this one? For how many of you is it standing in the pews and singing hymns? For how many of you is it people like me banging on from the front and reminding you that we’re all forgiven sinners and recipients of God’s grace? No. None of those is what the Church is, or what it should be for or about. The thing is, when we focus on those things we wind up fixating about buildings or over choices of hymns or over where the preacher should stand when he preaches or whether we should say the Lord’s prayer with the thees and thous. We fixate on everything but what the Church really is and what it’s for.

The Church is you. The Church is me. The Church is all its two billion people worldwide - each and every one of them. Each and every one of us called to pick up the baton handed on by John and be sent by God as a witness to testify to the light and deny the darkness.

The darkness of the world tells us that poverty and hunger are inevitable - they are the inevitable outworking of the laws of economics. When we deny that darkness - when we insist that everyone is a child of God and matters at least enough to put a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs, or when we support local food banks, or when churches open their doors at night for those who have nowhere else to go - we are witnesses and we are testimony to the light.

The darkness of the world tells us that compassion and kindness are weaknesses - that those who challenge the ‘brutal realities’ of life are ‘snowflakes’. When we deny that darkness - when we demonstrate that the ability to reach out for those who are hurting and broken or grieving or despised and shunned is the strongest, most powerful and yes, the most challenging thing we have going for us as human beings by doing something as simple as putting an arm around their shoulders - we are witnesses and we are testimony to the light.

The darkness of the world tells us that we need constantly to be armed and fearful of others who are different. They will invade us, or take our jobs, or subvert our culture. When we deny that darkness. When we allow the light of God to reveal that all humanity, in all its varied colours and languages and cultures, are all one in his love by speaking for peace when politicians defend acts of violence or when we refuse to be turned inward to see only a small few as our brothers and sisters - the n we are witnesses and we are testimony to the light.

That is what the church is for: to be a beacon of light in the darkness. To offer the chance for new life both here and forever. To offer hope in the face of despair. To offer truth in the face of comfortable lies. To offer peace in the face of war. To offer compassion in the face of coldness. To offer love -  a love that transcends all the boundaries and divisions this world throws up - in the face of selfishness and greed.

That’s what we’re for. Is that easy? No. Not always. Is it scary? Perhaps it should be when we remember what happened to John. But when we do it we are a testimony of light and we are brilliant. Then we are the light of the world and Christ is revealed in us.

Father, may we take up the baton from John. May we bear witness to the light of Christ in all we say and do. May your church proclaim you in all it says and does.

Preached at Gretna Old parish church