He came “to bear witness about the light” (John 1:7-8). That is how the Gospel reading describes John the Baptist, but this is an odd thing to say. It is odd because light does not need a witness. Strike a match in a dark room and you do not have to announce to the people around you that light has arrived. It simply shines. And in its shining, it makes itself known. We see the sun by the light of the sun, and we see a burning match by the light of the burning match.
The only exception would be if the people in the room were blind, then someone would need to tell them about the light. In that case, a witness would be necessary.
On this last Sunday before Christmas Eve, which happens to be the last Sunday before the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the strangeness of a witness to the light combines with the tragedy of humanity beset by congenital blindness to provide an opportunity for enlightening proclamation of the Gospel in your congregation. Even those whose eyes of faith have been opened by the gracious working of God’s Spirit (like the people who will gather to listen to you preach this Sunday) still suffer throughout life from a variety of blind spots both big and small. Which is why they (like you and me) continue to need preachers who will bear witness to the light.
But let us go back to John. He came to people suffering from a major blind spot. John bore witness to a world which did not know the Light, even though the Light had given them life (John 1:3-5). They could see with their eyes but were blind to the appearance of God’s agent of creation. More than that, John bore witness to His own people, the people whom God had chosen as His treasured possession and instrument for blessing all nations. They could see Jesus but would not receive Him. John, who had been sent by God Himself (John 1:6), came into a dark world. And the dark world had its way with him.
Perhaps the dark world is having its way with you, or with your congregation. Neither sin nor death is a respecter of the Church Year. In my pastoral experience, it seemed like temptations and trials increased in frequency and intensity during the busiest seasons. During Advent and Christmas (perhaps because of the lofty expectations we set for this time of year) the days that are darkest in terms of minutes are often among the darkest in terms of ministry as well.
During Advent and Christmas (perhaps because of the lofty expectations we set for this time of year) the days that are darkest in terms of minutes are often among the darkest in terms of ministry as well.
It is into this dark season that the Light of the World comes again. Like John, who bore witness to a world and a people suffering from major blind spots, your job is to proclaim the coming of this light to those living with blind spots of their own. That is, this Sunday offers you the opportunity to speak a word which exposes, enlightens, and ultimately enlivens your hearers as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.
But this raises a question. What are the blind spots for your people? There are many possibilities. Personal familiarity with your congregation is essential here, for a general message against general sin is generally unhelpful. Instead, consider the specific ways in which your congregation is living in darkness. Perhaps your people are unaware of or unengaged in the life of the community around them. They may love the Light for themselves, but their concern for those who remain in the darkness is lacking. If that is their blind spot, you might emphasize how John came so that “all” (πάντες) might believe through Jesus (verse 7). Or, maybe your congregation is like so many dysfunctional families whose annual celebration of the holidays is nothing more than an obligation and nothing less than a dumpster fire. Instead of treating one another like fellow “children of God” (verse 12), their blind spot may be a lack of familiarity with one another, a deficiency of love for those who are disagreeable, or an absence of unity in mission or ministry. Or, possibly the blind spot in your congregation is more basic. It could be your congregation fails to grasp the world-shaking and world-remaking implications of the One whose birth we are about to celebrate. In Him was life, John tells us (1:4), ...and it still is! In Him is their life, every man, woman, and child. He has given each of them life, He sustains each of their lives, and He renews their lives each day as they die and rise with Him.
Jesus is full of grace and truth (1:14). He has become flesh and dwelt among us, and He will return to dwell among us for all eternity. He is much bigger than the manger in which He was once laid. He is the Light of the World, the life of all humankind, and the One who shines in the darkness. Whatever form the darkness may be taking in your life and in the life of your congregation, Jesus overcomes it. Of that, and of Him, you are a witness.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 1:6-8, 19-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 1:6-8, 19-20.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 1:6-8, 19-20.