“The Man Who Witnessed”
A grandfather took his four-year old grandson out to the forestry to select a Christmas tree. They tramped all over, but the boy couldn’t find a tree that suited him. Finally, it began to get dark and cold and the grandfather shook his head and said: “We’ll HAVE to take the next tree.” he said flatly.
The boy looked up in bewilderment: “Even if it doesn’t have any lights either?”
It’s a little wonder that boy was confused… Christmas is a time of lights. It’s said that about 500 years ago, Martin Luther lit the first “Christmas tree”. Granted he used candles – which was a bit unsafe – but from that day on people lit candles in their homes to decorate for the season.
Then, in 1895, someone invented the first Electric Christmas tree lights.
Now, all through December, the evenings will be lit up as homes, businesses, and city streets fill the night with beautiful coloured lights and decorations. Some communities even have competitions to see who can put up the prettiest and most colourful light displays.
And that seems fitting – because the Birth of Christ was also decorated with lights.
· There were the Angels who lit up the night for the Shepherds.
· And the Star in the East which led the Wise men to find Jesus.
Christmas is a time of lights. And that’s only right… because Jesus is the light of the world.
That’s what it tells us in John’s Gospel.
John 1:4-5 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
In John 8:12 Jesus… said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And again in John 12:46 Jesus declared “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Have you ever been hauled over the carpet by anyone? You know what I mean, have you ever been called in front of someone, someone who had authority over you to explain some actions, to explain something that you did or said?
If you have, you know that is a very uncomfortable feeling. And it is even more uncomfortable if the people you are standing in front of are very angry with you and you do not consider that what you did was wrong. ’
John the Baptist in our gospel lesson this morning was hauled over the carpet by the religious rulers as they asked him who does he think he is preaching out in the wilderness, teaching this this baptism of repentance.
They wanted to know who John thought himself to be, and why he thought he had the right to be doing this kind of preaching.
Can you picture the scene? There is John, this giant, rugged individual, standing front of these wimps, these religious rulers with their flowing robes, their leather bands around their heads and wrists and they are probably waging their fingers at John, perhaps even screaming at him because they are angry with his kind of preaching and John is calmly and coolly standing there telling them all he is doing is preaching about one who is coming.
Can you just hear his words: “Listen folks, don’t get so upset. I am not doing anything so awful. NO, I am not the Christ. I am not Elijah. I am not a prophet. I am just a voice crying in the wilderness. I am preparing the way for one who is mightier than I, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with Power, with the Holy Spirit.”
John gave a witness to the one who was coming. He bore witness to Jesus. He stood his ground, he told about what he saw as his mission, he told about the coming of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist was called by God to bear witness to the coming of Jesus’ public ministry. He was called to be a voice of God in this world; he was called to prepare people for Jesus. And his calling from God was not a popular calling.
The religious rulers were angry with him, they could not understand where he got the authority, or the power, or who gave him permission to do this kind of preaching: John didn’t fit the mould the people were looking for.
John wasn’t what you call the typical religious ruler of his day. But he was faithful to his calling, he was faithful because he knew he was called by God for this mission. He knew God would give him the strength to carry on.
John came not to show how great he was, which by the way, was the style for the religious rulers; he came to show others someone who was greater than he was. John came to bear witness to the light of the world. He was being used, not as the centre of attraction, but as the light pointing to someone else.
Some churches have stained glass windows. The workmanship of these windows is beautiful; the pictures they display are superb. But without light, without sun light shining through these windows, their beauty would never be seen.
The windows are a human creation. Their glory comes not from humans or of itself alone, but from the light that streams through them.
John the Baptist was a creation of God, but without the light of Christ, he was nothing. His function was to let the light of Christ shine through him and help him point the way to Jesus. The windows in churches are used to point the way to Christ. Without light, without the message of Christ, these windows would be worthless. But because the creative sunlight of God lights them, and because they point beyond themselves to Christ, they are a beautiful work of art.
We are all created with a special purpose to somehow in our lives bear witness to Christ and his work of salvation.
In our everyday life, we are called by God to bear witness to Christ and His saving grace in our lives. Maybe it is by example, maybe it is by a gentle touch when someone is feeling the brokenness of this world. There are as many ways for us to bear witness to Christ as there are people in the church. No one way is right! But what is right is that we have to find that way to bear witness as John did in the wilderness.
There is a legend about a little shepherd boy who watched in amazement when the 3 wise-men brought their precious gifts to the Lord. His eyes filled with tears as he thought, if only a pearl would fall from the hand of a king, then I could go too. But I am ashamed to go because I have no gift for the Saviour.
The little lad was about to turn and run for the hills. Suddenly an angel appeared before him and said, “Give the gift that is closest to your heart.” So he did. They say that the Bethlehem star gave an extra twinkle in the heavens as a ragged boy placed a faded blue sack beside the expensive gifts of the three wise kings of the Orient. The sack contained the things closest to his heart, a sea shell that whispered in his ears, a piece of rope used to climb trees, a jagged slingshot made from a forked limb and a butterfly preserved in candle-wax.
That little boy gave to Jesus a part of, himself. He gave to him those things that he was truly attached. He gave to Jesus not merely things but part of himself. As we think about what we give to Jesus; we can see what he wants this Christmas is a human gift – ourselves. God wants us to give our lives to him and when we do that, then he will give us the power, the strength, the courage to be his stained glass windows in this world. He will give us the power to witness about his grace, his love, his mercy, his gift of salvation to this world.
God wants us to give hope to this world. He wants us to be people of hope. He wants us to be people who see beyond the brokenness of this world to His promise of Grace brought to this world as the Baby born in a manger on Christmas Eve.
“In late 18th century Poland, the Kaiser’s forces were burning all the Jewish villages. One village had been burned and nothing was left standing. As the sun came up the next morning an old Jewish gentlemen pounded a few boards together, made a sellers stall and opened it up for business.
A young man walked passed, stared in disbelief and asked, “What are you selling among these ruins.
The man smiled and said, “I am selling hope. You can sell water on a dry desert, so the place to sell hope is on the ash heap of destruction.”
As John the Baptist gave himself to God and the mission he was called to do, God is asking us to submit ourselves so that he might use us for the mission he created us to do. We are all called to bear witness to the one who is coming as a baby in the manger. We are all called so that we might be a voice crying in the wilderness of this world, a voice crying so that people might not see us, but see Christ, see the baby, see the precious gift of life that God has given to all people.
God is calling us to bring hope to despair, to bring comfort to those hurting, to bring hope to the grieving, to bring a measure of his grace into this world.
A closing story speaks about giving of ourselves in this world.
A poem by Edwin Markham , “How the Great Guest Came.”
“A old cobbler named Conrad had a dream that the Lord was coming to visit him. So he washed the walls of his small shop and his shelves until they shined. He decorated his shop with holly and fir. He put milk and honey on his table to offer to his special guest. He sat down and waited.
As he was waiting, he saw a poor barefoot beggar walking in the rain outside his door. He felt sorry for the man and invited him and gave him a pair of shoes. His clean floor was now dirty from the rain and mud.
As he was about to clean it up, he noticed an old lady who was bent over carrying a heavy load of firewood. He invited her in to sit and rest, shared some of his food with her and walked with her, helping carry some of the wood.
When he returned to his shop, he thought of all that needed to be done. He began to clean again and hoped he had time to find more food. Just then there came a knock at the door. He answered hurriedly and it was a small child crying – lost and cold. He picked up the child, dried the tears, gave her a cup of milk to drink and walked her to her home down the street and around the corner.
He hurried back to the shop. He was too tired now to clean or find more food but he still waited. Evening came and he began to wonder if the Lord had forgotten.
Then he heard a soft voice break the silence in that shop, ’Lift up your heart, for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door. Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was the beggar with bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat, I was the lost child on that homeless street.”
Conrad smiled to himself, put his feet up on the table and settled back in his chair to pray and talk with the Saviour so fair. “
To God be all power and glory, now and forever, amen.