Sunday's Sermon

 

Testify to the Light!

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

December 17, 2017 - Third Sunday of Advent A

Sermon text: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came 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.” – John 1:6-8

 

 

 

“Acquainted with the Night” is the title of a poem

                  written by the famous poet Robert Frost.

 

The words of the poem are:

      “I have been one acquainted with the night.

      I have walked out in the rain – and back in rain.

      I have out walked the furthest city light.

 

      I have looked down the saddest city lane.

      I have passed by the watchman on his beat

      And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

 

      I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

      When far away an interrupted cry

      Came over houses from another street,

 

      But not to call me back or say good-by;

      And further still at an unearthly height

      One luminary clock against the sky

 

      Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

      I have been one acquainted with the night.”

(pp. 255 in The Poetry of Robert Frost)

 

Like much poetry, the real meaning of the poem

            is deeper than the obvious and superficial one.

This poem is about much more than just someone

            who would often take walks at night.

It speaks rather of all people who must walk through

            some very dark times in their lives.

 

For after all, the hours of night

            are certainly not the only times that our lives are dark.

Sometimes, the night in which we walk

                  is the darkness of despair…

                  or the darkness of health problems…

                  or the darkness of loneliness…

                  or the darkness of sorrow…

                  or the darkness of fear…

                  or the darkness of heartache…

                  or the darkness of doubt.

 

There are many ways and circumstances in our lives

            that can make us feel like we are walking

                  in the darkness of night.

And so we too can join Robert Frost in admitting:

            “I have been one acquainted with the night.”

 

Our nights are long at this time of the year.

The winter solstice will be here this Thursday.

December 21 will be the first day of winter.

It is at this time of year

      when the days are the shortest

            and the nights are the longest.

If it were not for the upcoming holidays,

      this time of year might otherwise be

            most people’s least favorite time of the year.

Long periods of darkness are tough.

The long hours of evening darkness

            have a way of darkening our souls as well.

 

Sometimes our lives are very dark.

Sometimes our lives are very dark.

 

When a seed is planted in soil,

            what determines which direction it will grow?

Why is it, that no matter which way a seed is planted in the ground,

            it always grow up?

Why doesn’t it grow sideways or down?

 

The answer is simple.

From the moment a seed geminates,

      the young sprout grows toward the light.

If you have plants in your windows at home,

      you know how you must occasionally turn them

            because otherwise they grow bent over

                  towards the window’s light.

When a seed is planted in the darkness of soil,

      it grows in the direction of the light.

 

It is no different for you and me.

We who often live life in times of darkness

            grow, reach, and struggle towards the light.

 

Light is extremely important.

The book of Genesis tells us that before God created the world

            there was nothing but darkness.

No wonder then that on the very first day of creation,

            God said, “Let there be light.”

And there was light.

 

Light is the focus of our gospel reading for today.

In it we heard these words:

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

      He came for testimony, to testify to the light,

                  that all might believe through him.

      He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”

 

John was not the light.

But he spoke of another who was.

He pointed to the one called Jesus.

Jesus is the light.

This is what John said about Jesus.

 

Jesus would later say about himself:

      “I am the light of the world;

            whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,

                  but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah:

      “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

            those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

                  on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

Jesus is indeed the light of the world.

 

This certainly is good news for people well acquainted with the night.

Of course, the message of Christianity is not that all is darkness...

            that all is gloom and despair.

But neither is the message of Christianity that all is light...

            that all is smiles, happiness, and good times.

Christianity takes seriously the sin and suffering of the world.

There is darkness... sometimes seemingly pervasive darkness.

But there is also light... a great light... Jesus Christ.

 

Viktor Frankl, a famous psychiatrist,

            tells a story which speaks about this reality.

It is a story of light...

      a light that Frankl saw once

while a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.

He recalls what happened this way:

      “The dawn was gray around us;

            gray was the sky above;

                  gray the snow in the pale light of dawn;

                        gray the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad;

                              and gray their faces...

      I was struggling to find the reason for my suffering...

                        my slow dying.

      In a last violent protest against

                  the hopelessness of imminent death,

            I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world,

                  and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’

                        in answer to my question of existence

                              of an ultimate purpose.

      At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse,

                  which stood on the horizon as if painted there,

in the midst of a miserable gray dawning morning in Bavaria.”

 

In the darkness of that gloomy prisoner of war camp,

      the light of a single candle in a distant farmhouse signified to Frankl

            that there was indeed meaning in the midst of great tragedy...

                  hope in the midst of great despair...

                        and light in the midst of great darkness.

 

This certainly is true for us as well.

For our lives which are often dark in many ways,

            Jesus is the light of the world!

 

In the eyes of many, John the Baptist was a great man.

Jesus would later say of him,

            that he was the greatest man who ever lived.

John attracted quite a following.

He was very popular.

Crowds of people flocked to hear him.

Many of them were impressed by John…

            responded to his call for repentance.

                  and were baptized in the Jordan River.

John became very famous.

 

Popularity can be a great temptation.

We see all so well in our own culture

            how many sports heroes, movie stars, and other celebrities

                  allow their popularity go to their head.

Often people get all wrapped up in their own ego and fame

            and it destroys their lives.

 

Well, that didn’t happen with John.

He didn’t let his popularity puff him up with pride.

Instead, he told the people of a great light.

He spoke of another greater than himself.

He admitted his unworthiness even to untie the sandal

      of the one to come.

 

John didn’t draw attention to himself.

Instead, he drew people’s attention to Jesus.

 

It’s important to realize that God is not asking us to be the light.

We might try our hardest to be the light,

            but we would surely fail.

During the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and Scribes

      tried very hard to be good religious people.

On the outside it may have seemed like they succeeded,

            but on the inside there was nothing.

They did not have a real relationship with God.

 

Each of us has probably tried to be a light.

We probably have given it a good effort.

But it doesn’t work, does it?

 

What happens to people who try to be a light?

Sooner or later they burn out.

But we don’t need to be the light.

We only need to tell others about the light.

 

I recently read a short story about Billy Graham.

Some people were saying that he was a man of great faith.

But another person disagreed, saying:

      “Billy Graham doesn’t have great faith;

            he has a great God.”

 

In the night sky, the moon sometimes shines brightly.

Of course, the moon produces no light of its own.

It is only reflecting to earth the light of the sun.

 

We are to be like the moon.

We have no light in and of our selves.

But we can reflect into the lives of others,

            the light of the Son...

                  the light of the Son of God.

Our words and deeds are to reflect the one

            who is the light of the world.

     

At this time of year many people put up lights as decorations.

People are longing for light...

            longing for hope... for joy... for peace… for comfort.

But only the one who is the light of the world

            can dispel the darkness that surrounds us.

 

There is an old Christmas tradition

            of placing in a window a single lighted candle.

The candle that we have in the center of our Advent wreath

            has grown out of that very old custom.

We light it during the season of Christmas.

But for many the tradition of a single candle in the window endures.

One shining candle that is called the Christ candle.

One shining candle that points to Jesus.

One shining candle that bears witness to the one

            born to be the light of the world.

 

John the Baptist was a great man...

            not because he preached great sermons...

            not because he was popular...

            not because he was highly intelligent or gifted.

John was a great man simply because he pointed others to Jesus.

John testified to the light – the light which is Jesus Christ.

 

The word “testify” makes us think of a trial in a courtroom.

In any trial, it probably is not be easy to testify.

But if we are summoned to do so, we must appear in court

            and testify to what we know.

We may never be called as a witness in a courtroom,

            and yet our God does call us to witness

                  in our daily lives.

In all that we say and do,

            we need to, like John, testify...

                  testify to the one who is the light of the world.

 

It has often been said:

      “Your life may be the only Bible some people read.”

 

 

So with our words and actions, we are to lead people

            to the one who is the true light.

The world, after all, can sometimes be a very dark place.

But we believe that a light shines in the darkness!

 

So let us testify to the light!

Testify to Jesus!

 

We are testifying to the light...

            when we feed the hungry...

            when we sacrifice for the sake of others...

            when we return hatred with kindness...

            when we forgive those who wrong us...

            when we trust God for our futures...

            when we share with those in need...

            when we tell others of God’s love...

            when we welcome the stranger.

 

 

Whenever and wherever we live out our Christian faith...

            in our homes...in our families...in our communities...

                  in our jobs...in our school...in our church...

      it is then that we are testifying to the light.

 

Will we be like John?

Will we testify to the light?

Will our words and actions testify to the light of the world –

            Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior?

 

So many people are living in darkness.

To them, testify to the light of the world.

 

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of worry.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of doubt.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of despair.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of guilt.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of grief.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can shine in the darkness of heartache.

Testify to the light of Christ

            who can even shine in the darkness of death.

 

Yes, indeed, so many people are living in a darkness.

So, in all that we say and do each and every day...

      let us…

            testify to the light!

 

 

 Amen.