John 1:6–8 (NRSV)
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to
the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
John 1:19–28 (NRSV)
The Testimony of John the Baptist
(Mt 3:1–12; Mk 1:1–8; Lk 3:1–20)
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
There is something about light. Light has a calming effect on children when they are frightened while sleeping, light give a sense of security and safety to those that are walking at night. Light removes fear, it instills peace, hope, and joy. Just a little light can change one’s perspective. The use of lights to celebrate Christmas, at least lights on the Christmas tree, goes back to Martin Luther in Germany. The story says that while he was walking through the woods he saw the stars shining through the branches of the evergreen trees and as the light was filtering down he had a feeling of peace flood his soul. So he hurried home and tried to recreate that feeling in his home by attaching candles to the branches of a tree. Just a little light filtering through the branches of a tree gave him peace.
Why was this great man of God not in a state of peace already? If we were to look back through history we would see that Martin Luther was one of the early reformers of the church. He was a man that faced the changing culture around him and saw that God was in the midst of the change. But that did not necessarily give him peace because his situation was dire. The reformation sparked wars within Germany and across Europe. People were killing and being killed over expressions of faith. Not exactly the brightest time of church history, but it was a time that prompted great change. In the midst of this cultural war, a battle where Luther found himself not only in the middle of but on the front lines, it was a little light filtering through the branches that gave him peace. The light of the world had come to drive out the darkness, the light had come to illuminate the way, the light had come to give hope and strength to those whom where wearied through the constant debate and struggle of their lives.
I find comfort in that story. I find hope in the simple story of a righteous man finding peace in his soul by observing something seemingly simple. Of all the great things said and done by Martin Luther this one seemingly insignificant thing is probably the most universal.
If we look deeper into history, we would find that there was much change in Europe around the time of the reformation than just expressions of faith. Luther was a professors at a major university, the university system was beginning to take off. Education and the place of educators was becoming the seat of power within the culture. Literacy was on the increase among Europeans, and the invention of the printing press allowed more people to have access to written words because prior to that time books were hand copied and very expensive. More people could read, more people could write, more people could publish, and more ideas were being exchanged at a more rapid rate than any other time in history. Knowledge was on the increase and with knowledge comes more questions, with more questions people began to study to provide answers to the questions. For people to believe there needed to be proof, and the emergence of the sciences began to take a more prominent role.
This leads us to the place we are today. From that moment on there has been a continuous increase in technologies, new philosophies, governmental systems, and theology. As these things increased there was also newer struggles, different questions, and somewhere along the line just as in the reformation there has become a cultural struggle that has caused a questioning of God.
These cycles seem to have a place in the course of human history. Even the names included in the genealogy of Jesus indicate these very same cycles. A closeness to God, increasing technologies, technologies being used to dominate in war, desperation, poverty, a yearning for God, praises to God, and the cycle continues. It was during one of these cycles when the judges emerged as leaders in Israel, when the prophets began to teach, when the exiles occurred. It is during these cycles when Israel left their lands to go Egypt, found themselves as slaves, and made the exodus. It was during a cycle just like this that Jesus was born bringing light to the world.
Light is an important word. We have already discussed the effects of light, but there is much more packed into this word.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. (Genesis 1:1-4a, ESV)
Everything started with Light. The beginning of creation, the beginning of God’s interaction outside of himself is with light. Light among the Jewish people and among the Greeks was considered the beginning of knowledge. And was also the symbol of the presence of God. Which is why the festival of lights is such an important holiday. It represents the presence of God providing for the rededication of the temple and the nation, light brought hope. Light illuminates the darkness reveals the things that were previously unseen, it brings security and safety during the times of darkness. Light is the very presence of God.
This is where we find John in today’s reading. There was an understanding among the religious leaders that the Messiah was going to bring knowledge, hope, security, and peace from God. They were looking for this enlightened man to lead them into their bright future. John gave testimony to the light but he was not the light.
He cried out in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.” And the people came running to him. They repented and where baptized in the waters of the Jordan as a symbol of their repentance. Yet he was very adamant that he was not the messiah. The religious leaders were confused by his teaching and his claims. He was not building a school or a following to himself as rabbis did during that time, but he was directing them elsewhere. Telling them to keep looking for the one to come, to prepare themselves for the one that would not baptize with water but with the Spirit and fire. Again there is a cycle of history, an emerging change in the culture that would redirect the courses of history.
Why is this so important? Because we all need the light. We are in the midst of another turning of the cycles of history. During this time frame we have a darkness surrounding us but there is a glimmer of light filtering through. We do not know exactly what the future holds but we do know that God is at work and we must prepare the way of the Lord. We must hold each other in the light.
The old Quaker term of holding someone in the light, is one that is derived from the understanding that God is light, he is the source of all wisdom, security, peace and hope. To be held in the light of God is to ask that God will provide guidance and understanding to the situation at hand. Basically it is a fancy way to say pray. But to hold someone in the light is different than just prayer, it is an acknowledgement that we do not know or cannot control the outcome. We hold people in the light because only God can truly direct us, and that light we are holding people in is Jesus. When George Fox was in the fields seeking understanding and heard the voice say to him, “there is one even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.” He understood that it was Christ who was not only our salvation but our very guide in life. That if we wanted become disciples or followers of Christ that we would have to live, act and walk along the path illuminated by the light of God. But walking and living in the light is not always an easy task.
When Martin Luther was gazing up at the star filtering though the branches of the trees, he was given a sense of peace. He was given a peace and an understanding that he was walking down the path that Christ had called him to walk. It was not easy because everything that he had previously known was removed and everything before him was uncharted. He did not think that the very church he loved would be split in half and that wars would be fought and lives lost. He thought he was reforming and reviving the church. But whenever things are about to change those that have a stake on either side of the change will seek to gain or retain control.
This is where we are today. In the midst of a culture war. Lines are being drawn and sides are being chosen. But the question I ask is, where is the light? In the first century these very same lines were drawn, as in the 15th century, and the 17th. There is a turning and a change, but God is still at work. Consider that for a moment, consider the history that surrounds these cyclical changes throughout history. Where was God in those times? In each case there was a religious establishment with great power, yet the powerful fell. Why did that happen? Because we are unfit to untie the thongs of the sandals of the one to come. We are prideful and bold in our righteous claims but are we really children of the light? Are we really walking down the pathways illuminated by Christ or are we walking down the pathways of man? Do we seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus?
These are tough questions, questions that may be too scary to consider. If we were to claim to be following in the footsteps of Jesus we would have to examine our lives in the light of the Gospels and we would have to let others view our actions in the same light. It is scary because we know that we are hypocrites, we know full well we say one thing and do something else. We know full well that our actions and our words are not in unity. But God is moving among us. For those of us who confess and turn to Christ and seek to follow Him, He will begin to illuminate the path before us, and as we begin to walk with him he will give us the peace and hope that we are in the light. We will never be perfect even the disciple were not perfect, but we can be children of the light, people living and being directed by the very spirit of God and when we live lives directed by God things begin to change. That is the hope and the peace we gain during this season. Though we fail, though we may often live in the darkness, Christ came and offers the strength to overcome and the grace to change, and the light to walk by.
As we enter into this time of holy expectancy and communion as Friends, examine your life. Are we walking in the light, are we building a greater understanding of God though the study of scripture? Are we seeking the guidance of Christ through prayer? Are we encouraging or holding those around us in the light of Christ? Are we imitating and living the love of Jesus with those in our communities? Are we children of the light or darkness? Consider your life, and consider our world, consider the lights upon our Christmas trees, the life of Fox and Luther, and the saints of old and of new. Consider and listen. God is not finished yet and is beginning a new work all around us, will we be part of that work?