Witnesses to the Light

‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He

came as a witness to testify to the Light...’

(John 1.6-7)

A Christmas Eve Sermon

~

It’s a question commonly put to us when we’re children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There’s no right answer, of course, and any answer given in the innocence and unknowing of childhood is likely to be revised as time and experience shape us. And as for parents, it’s one of parenthood’s most interesting questions: what will my child be when he or she grows up? And with that question come hopes and fears.

 

The ‘Christmas Gospel’ from the pen of St John the Evangelist, which we heard a moment ago, concerns that same question. What will this child, these children, Jesus and John, be when they grow up?

Each evangelist answered that question in the Gospel he wrote. For St Luke, for instance, Jesus became a ‘mighty saviour’ shining like the dawn upon a dark, cold world. John the Baptist became ‘the prophet of the Most High’ (Luke 1. 69, 76).

St John doesn’t put it that way. He prefers to draw word pictures. So St John speaks of light. John the Baptist became ‘a witness testifying to the light’ (1.7), and Jesus, well, he is the ‘true light’ (1.9). Each of them in their different but connected ways, entered an adulthood full of light: Jesus, the source of light; John bathed in its glow as its first and formidable witness.

It’s a startling contradiction, to my mind, that the Christmas season begins, at least from a full-blown commercial perspective, with ‘Black Friday’. How can a bleak, ‘black’ day inaugurate a season of light?

But just there we have the contrast, the conflict even, which marks this festival, this whole season, and its spiritual meaning for us: how, through the divine tender mercy (Luke 1.78), God’s Light has appeared to all of us who live ‘in the shadow of death’, that is, amid all that is unkind toward the project of becoming and being human.

The light that St John describes is a light that enlightens all those who step into its brilliant, piercing, revealing shaft. It’s the light which gives us sight, insight into the Truth and the truths that make of life not just an endless round of purchases, consumption and discard, of serial relationships and fluid identities, but a deep re-making of the divine image within us according to obligations of Love. It’s a light that makes us light-bearers. We can become witnesses to that living Light, like John the Baptist. We can be bathed in its glow.

That opportunity—to become, like John, witnesses to the Light by being bathed in that light through the life of faith—that opportunity is the Christmas gift.

Amen.

 

Sermon preached by The Revd Dr Charles Miller, Team Rector
St Helen’s Church, Abingdon-on-Thames
Christmas Eve, 2017