John 1:6-8 (Third Sunday in Advent—Series B)
“A Witness to the Light”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 17, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in John, chapter 1:
6A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came for witness, that is, to bear witness concerning the Light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8[John] was not the Light, but [came] in order to bear witness concerning the Light.
“Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Big debate going on these days over the use of one or the other of the “Season’s Greetings.” The argument goes something like this. “Happy Holidays” is what you say when you don’t want to “offend” someone who doesn’t like “Christ in Christmas.” It’s simply a way that the liberal left has to attack the Christians and to remove Jesus from the celebration of His birth. Christians, then, should say “Merry Christmas.” Everyone should say, “Merry Christmas.” Enough with taking Christ out of Christmas.
I’ve got news for you. Christ was probably removed from Christmas long before the recent debates over what to say in greeting. Christmas for a lot of folks is just about family, presents, food, decorations, presents, cards, . . . did I mention presents? In fact, I’d go as far to say that the world’s version of Christmas usually doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Christ in the first place. So whether or not you say, as a Christian, “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” it doesn’t matter. Both can be used to witness to the Light of Jesus Christ, true God who became fully human in order to be our Savior. That’s what we Christians are called to do!
Consider again with me today the ministry of John. We heard last Sunday in Mark 1 that John came on the scene, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was the forerunner of the coming Messiah-Savior, the “voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” St. John’s Gospel also begins with John the Baptist—“A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for witness, that is, to bear witness concerning the Light, so that everyone might believe through him.” John’s baptism and preaching were for this purpose: to witness to and to testify concerning the true Light, Jesus Christ. The result of John’s baptism and preaching is that people might come to believe in the Light Himself as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the whole world and be rescued from their sins, from death, and from the dominion of the devil.
John’s witness serves to establish the identity of Jesus. He is the Word who in the beginning was with God and is God. He is the Creator. And He is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” so that all people might “believe in His name” and thereby become children of God by grace through faith in Jesus. John’s message and witness is the beautiful Gospel that we as Christians know, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). The hymn writer paraphrases it for us in the familiar words, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me, Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine” (LSB 611:1).
We, along with all people, were held in bondage to the darkness of sin, Satan, and death. We were in need of the light of life that only God can supply by rescuing us from our lost and darkened condition. This world is so shrouded in death, evil, and ignorance. This darkness is painted with hues of wickedness and opposition to God’s plan of salvation: bombers in New York City, shooters entering our churches and school and malls, heroin and opioids holding people in their addictive and deadly clutches. Personally, we experience the darkness of sin as we sometimes feel like our lives are being “snuffed out” or slowly smothered by what we go through day in and day out. We sometimes feel deprived of something necessary to continue living. Relationships can grow cold and dark between friends, spouses, and families. The death of those we love can make us feel abandoned by God. We might not feel the warmth of His love as we are enveloped by the darkness of grief, sorrow, pain, sickness, depression or anxiety.
The message of the Gospel as proclaimed by John is the message of Light. He came to point us to the true Light which enlightens everyone! You see, the Gospel is what we call “Incarnational.” It’s the Word of God that comes down into our scary world of sin and pain and trouble and literally gets His hands dirty with our sins and burdens. Jesus the Word made flesh didn’t take us out of the darkness, but He entered into our darkness, side-by-side with us. Jesus the true Light let Himself be enveloped in the darkness of our sin, enshrouded by the darkness of death and hell itself. On the cross, Jesus literally went into the darkness—“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land” (Matt. 27:45). Jesus Christ became the “darkness of the world” for us so that we might have the light of life by means of the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.
John 1:14 tells us that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, “we have seen [Jesus’] glory.” In the Gospel, the light of Christ Himself allows us to see Jesus by faith because Christ through the Gospel Word gives us the vision of who He is—the Word made flesh who suffered, died, and rose to save us all from the darkness of sin and death and Satan. The Gospel is the witness to Jesus as we read and hear the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the testimony of Peter and Paul and of all apostles. Jesus is our light, light incarnate, light personified. He is the One who came into our world darkened by death and evil to redeem and to save. In Jesus’ light, we are able to believe by His grace and so are saved eternally to live in the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Now that the light of the Gospel has shown in our hearts and we have received the gift of faith through the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, what is our purpose and role in this life as Christians? We, like John the Baptist, have become witnesses of Christ, witnesses of the Gospel of light. “You,” Jesus says, “are the light of the world!” You reflect the Light of Jesus to our world that remains hidden the darkness of sin and death. You become the very light of Jesus as you witness with your words and actions the words and actions of the Savior.
And that brings us back to the “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” conundrum. Neither phrase in and of itself is a witness to Jesus. Yes, the word “Christmas” does have the letters that spell “Christ” in it. But saying the word “Christ” or “Jesus” isn’t witnessing any more than saying “O my God” is a prayer. Bearing witness to the Light is sharing with people who Jesus is and what He has done by His life, suffering, death, and resurrection to save the world from sin and death. Giving witness to Jesus is proclaiming, announcing, and sharing the Gospel message. It’s not merely talking about Christ but giving people Christ through the Good News message. Here’s talking about Christ: “Jesus died on a cross and rose again. He died to take away sins so that all people might have forgiveness.” Here’s giving people Christ: “God loved you so much that He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to take your sins upon Himself. When He suffered and died on the cross, it was for you. Jesus shed His blood to win your forgiveness. He rose again from the dead to assure you that eternal life is also yours. Jesus is with you in the darkness of this life. He is present to comfort you with His Word of peace. Jesus is with you always, no matter what. You can depend on Him. His promises are good for you all the time when He says ‘I will never leave you. I will always help and support you through the dark times. I will bring you through them to be with me forever in heaven.’” See the difference?
We don’t witness mere facts about the Savior, we tell people what the Savior has done and is doing “for you.” We can do that using the phrase, “Happy Holidays.” What really makes the holidays happy? Getting what you ordered from Mr. Claus? No. Jesus the Son of God became a man so that He could give you forgiveness of sins and eternal life—there’s no earthly gift that can compare to being saved from sin, death, and hell! The holidays are happy because of what Jesus did for you in His perfect life, death, and resurrection. That salvation Jesus won for you will make for the happiest of holidays when Christ comes again on the Last Day and makes a whole new perfect creation for all who believe in Him. Then, we will see His glory face to face.
We can also witness to Christ using “Merry Christmas.” Why is Christmas merry? Because of the gift of God’s Son, our Savior Jesus! The holidays are happy and Christmas is merry because God gave us Jesus to be our Savior and King! That’s the message we as disciples of the Lord have the joy of sharing. Can you see yourself, when the store clerk says, “Happy Holidays,” you respond, “Thank you. Yes, they are happy because God gave us the gift of His Son Jesus who saved us from sin and death!” Or someone greets you, “Merry Christmas,” and you respond. “Oh yes, Christmas is merry because you and I have a Savior Jesus who died and rose for us!”
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that! It’d be too embarrassing. It’d be too noticeable that I’m a Christian!” Well, yes, that’s kinda the point. John came as a witness to the Light, Jesus Christ. You’re a disciple of Jesus, also a witness to the Light, Jesus Christ. The joyful responsibility of telling others who Jesus is belongs to us, His Church. And the Lord Himself arranges all sorts of opportunities to not just speak about Christ but to give people Christ.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” because the Lord would much rather us share His Good News with people using more than a simple catch-phrase. Share the Savior’s light. Tell others about sin and death; tell them about forgiveness and eternal life through Christ. That’s what’s important, that others hear the Good News of Christ so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they might believe in Jesus and be saved from sin, death, and hell by His cross and resurrection victory. God grant that many might hear of Christ through your lips this Advent and Christmas season. Amen.
 Material taken from Jacob A.O. Preus, Just Words (St. Louis: Concordia, 2000), 63-69.