The Witness

Christmas 2C          John 1:1-18

In the beginning…that wonderful ‘once upon a time’ sounding phrase from God. Makes us think that we are going to get to hear a great story! We hear In the Beginning and we think of that primeval time when God created land and sea and sun and moon and stars—all the wonders of creation. But we stop short: In the beginning……was….the word. What?

Then there is a twisting, turning phrase that follows. Something about this word business-being with God and then, well, actually, that this word WAS God. What? Did the writer of John get confused? First, this word was with God and then it turns out he was God. All things were made through him. Now what does that mean? Is this word some kind of computer program, like AutoCad that engineers use to design and, then, make things? Or maybe it is like Microsoft Word—wordprocessing through which all kinds of things are written. Then there is this whole life/light/darkness thing that is nearly impossible to make sense out of. After weeks and weeks of these wonderful stories that might have been fantastical—virgin births and angels and prophecies and all—but at least that was something you could get your mind around. But all this ‘word’ business? It is a shock to the system!
Each of the writers of the gospels challenges us in different ways. Matthew challenges us by saying over and over—look! Here was the prophecy and here it is fulfilled! Mark challenges us by the abrupt, hurried and sometimes downright abrasive attitude of the main character of his work. Luke’s challenge lies in his constantly focusing on what ought to be peripheral people—women, poor, outcast. But John….John’s challenge is a little different. John challenges our minds. He calls upon us to lift the veil of what we see as everyday reality to see the truth that lies behind it. He challenges us to go further, deeper than a basic understanding of our faith—of our savior.

So, let us rise to John’s challenge and examine the beginning of his gospel. But just what on earth is he talking about?

Well, like John, like scripture, like God himself, let us begin at the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word. If it does make you think if Genesis, that’s a good thing—it’s intentional. John is drawing us all back to the very beginning of all things. Actually, before all things. Before anything was created, the Word was there. The Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made thorough him and nothing was made without him. This is one of the big pieces of Trinitarian theology right here. The Word means Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so he is in the beginning—before everything else is created—with God. And, he is God. That means several things for us. First, it means that although Jesus was fully incarnated in human flesh and blood and lived breathed worked laughed cried bled and died just like every other human being that has ever been, he was not created the moment Mary gave birth to him. He has been in existence since before the dawn of time itself. More than that, he is God. Second, it means that everything that has ever been or ever will be in creation has as much of the fingerprint of Jesus upon them as they do the Father’s.

In him was life and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are all three seasons that deal with light—specifically the light of God—Jesus. During Advent, we look for and wait for the light—the light of the world. During Christmas, we celebrate that light being born into the world, the light of heaven coming to us in a tiny baby born on a long dark night. And then during Epiphany, which we celebrate now—specifically on Wednesday and after—we share the light with the world. Epiphany is the ah ha of God, the lightbulb moment when we share the light of Christ with everyone. That light—the light of heaven, the light of God, the light of Christ, the light of the world—is the life through which all things are made, the life that was in the beginning with God and was God.

All of that—the truth of the God for whom we have waited becoming flesh and living among us and sending us out to the rest of the world is right here.

Just as this is John’s telling the story of the birth of Jesus in his own way, this text also has a different way of telling the Epiphany story. Luke’s story about the birth of Jesus is quite detailed and the first visitors we hear of there are the shepherds who heard the message of the angels. Matthew tells his story of the birth of the Savior in abbreviated terms and follows it with the visit of the Magi with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is what gives us the festival of Epiphany which officially occurs this week—on Wednesday. But John, in his cosmic, mysterious way, tells it a little differently.

We hear about another John. John the Witness. We know him from the other gospels as John the Baptist.

“there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He cane as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”

In many ways, this is a very clear description of Epiphany.

There is a famous painting of John the Baptist—John the Witness. It’s called the Isenheim Altarpiece. It depicts the crucifixion of Jesus with John the Witness standing beside him pointing to the crucified body of Matthias Grunewaldthe Savior. The interesting thing about this painting is John’s finger. It’s twice the length of a normal finger. That long, boney finger of John’s stands out, strikingly, as it points not to himself, not to anything he has ever done, not to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ himself. The point the artist was trying to make was that John’s primary job in life was to point to Jesus. And that is really the lesson of Epiphany for us—our job, like John’s, is to be the witness to Jesus’ life. To point to Jesus.

I think that sometimes we, as Christians, have a mixed up idea of what it means to ‘witness’. It does not mean to beat someone over the head with our faith, nor does it really even mean that we must persuade anyone. To be a witness is simply to tell others what you’ve experienced. To tell in words and action. To point to Jesus. To, in a sense, make our whole lives into something that points to Jesus.

So what does that mean? Well, it’s hard to say really. I feel kind of like the writer of this Gospel who, no doubt, struggled with how to communicate the nature of God with mere words. Only God can speak light. Only God can say all that needs to be said in a single Word.

But think of it like this: this pointing to Jesus is the very heart of what it means to do Evangelism, to do Social Ministry, to plan, lead and participate in Worship. It is the center and purpose of Christian education and faith formation. Pointing to Jesus is the heart of discipleship and the very mission that gave birth to the church itself. What does that look like in a concrete way? Well, that is our challenge. I challenge us this year to find what that looks like for us. For us as individuals and for us as a congregation. Let us, together, look for the Light of God in Christ in our lives and in the world and find ways to point to it.
For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

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