Martyrs to the Light: John 1:6-8, 19-28

It was my Junior year of high school during football season.  The team had traveled several hours north to play a rival town.  It was the first time I had ever been to this small town and it was not a very easy road to follow.  It had twists and turns that were sharp and narrow.  Going there was okay because we had daylight.  Going home was a different story.

I had followed a friend up to the game and was planning on following him back home, especially since it was dark, far, and I was unfamiliar with the area.  My friend drove a 1994 Camaro.  It was a sweet ride.  It had plenty of juice and could get up and go.

I drove a 1981 Ford pickup that drove like it looked.  It was red and brown with rusting floorboards and quarter panels.  I once had it die on me at the same stop sign 15 times before I was able to finally keep it running.  Imagine trying to keep up with a 1994 Camaro in that rolling heap of metal!

It was dark and my headlights barely kept the road illuminated.  I had the pedal pushed clear to the floor trying to maintain speed over the hills and around the curves… all while trying to keep an eye on my friend’s taillights that were moving farther and farther ahead.  I was sure the pickup could explode, literally, at any moment… it rattled and squeaked with the slightest bump in the road.

My friend’s taillights disappeared.  I was literally in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, unsure of the way home, and not positive that even if I could find the way that my truck would arrive there in one piece.  I was panicked, angry at my friend… and praying fervently that I’d find my way.

Lost in the dark.  That is the way that John’s Gospel talks about the world’s brokenness.  We are lost in the dark.  We are like bats without sonar in the deepest cave that has been sealed off from any light source.  Utterly without sight, utterly without light.  Lost in the dark.

It hadn’t always been that way.  Once, Light had filled all of this world… God was present with the Creation.  The world lived in harmony with itself and with its Creator.  Yet, though the world had been created by the Light, it rejected the Light and was plunged into darkness.  Lost in the dark.

God wasn’t satisfied in leaving us in the dark.  God’s Light was coming into the world to be light for every person.  God sent a man named John to prepare the way for God’s Light coming to the world, to shatter the darkness.

It sounds like Good News for us!  It should be Good News for us.  God isn’t leaving us fumbling about in our own darkness.  He has stepped down into time and history to dispel our darkness.  It’s Great News… if we don’t love our darkness.  It’s wonderful news… if we don’t hate the Light.  It is heard as Bad News if we are lost in the dark… and wish to remain there.

If you have ever sat in darkness for an extended period of time, you know how painful bright light can be to the eyes when it is switched on.  Our eyes squint, we shield them with our hands, we feel disoriented for a moment.  Light in the darkness can feel unwelcome and painful.

That’s really the problem.  Having lived in darkness, we’re not fully aware of just how far off track we are.  We’re comfortable with our darkness.  We even rationalize that our darkness isn’t as dark as everyone else’s darkness.  We convince ourselves that our darkness is really light… That’s the problem with living in darkness – we’re unable to see.  We need Light, we need God, to dispel our darkness to show it for what it is.

But, how difficult it is to hear, to listen, to see that we are off course.  We like to think we have it right, figured out.  As reasoning creatures, we assume we have it all reasoned out.  But, honestly, as reasoning creatures we can make up a reason for just about anything we want to believe… even those things that have nothing to do with the Light.

When I was a college student at OSU, it wouldn’t take long for anyone to see I was living in the dark.  I was filled with hatred, rage, and resentment.  Living by myself, I had ostracized myself from my friends and family.  I still identified myself as “Christian,” though I had no part in the Church’s life nor did I actively seek out God.  I was lost in the dark, though I thought I could see.

One day a man came to my door, asked if we could talk.  Stepping out onto the porch, he shook my hand and said that he was a local pastor and that he sensed God was sending him to this house to talk with me.  My hackles were immediately raised.  I was suspicious, wary.  He asked me questions about myself and asked if I knew God.  I told him I did know God.  He asked if I was involved with church.  I told him “no.”  He invited me.  I told him I might come, but I never fully intended to follow up.

It was a God moment.  A moment in my darkness I was unable to see or appreciate.  I have no doubt that God sent that pastor to wake me up, to prepare for God’s advent in my own life.  But, I brushed it away.  I didn’t want God’s Light shining into my darkness.  Terrible things resided there and didn’t want to face what I truly was – someone living in darkness.

I was comfortable there.  The pastor had been sent by God to prepare for the Light’s coming – all I could see was the annoyance and the sense of feeling very uncomfortable.  Keep in mind, I knew the Scriptures… but they had become a shield I used to create a barrier between me and God’s presence and the Church.

Not everyone was enthused by John’s testimony about God’s Light coming into the world.  Jewish leaders come down to Bethany where John is baptizing.  They begin to ask him questions.  Was he the Messiah?  He fervently said, “No!”  Was he Elijah?  He denied that, too!  Was he the prophet talked about in Deuteronomy 18:15?  John shook his head in denial.  Who was he then?

I doubt that the religious leaders of John’s day were unaware of who John was.  He was popular.  He was charismatic.  He dressed like Elijah and spoke like a prophet.  They knew who he was.  The religious leaders are trying to categorize John.  By trying to figure out who John is, the leaders ignore who he represents.  In much the same way that I maneuvered around that pastor on my porch, the Jewish leaders avoid hearing John’s message by focusing on issues of his authority.  What gives John the right to call for repentance and baptize people?  Who does he think he is?  Doesn’t he know that we are holy people?

The religious leaders’ questioning of John allows them to avoid the call for repentance, the need for preparing the way for God, and the prospect that God’s Light is now in the world – and they don’t recognize it!  If the leaders reject the one sent to prepare the way for the Light, how will they receive the One who is Light?

Recall my mishap driving down those dark Oklahoma highways.  Long after I had lost my friend’s taillights and had about given up hope of finding my way, I drove into a small town.  Rolling up to a stop sign, I couldn’t figure out which way to turn.  So, I pulled into the gas station with its dim light flickering.  The cashier kindly gave me directions to the road I needed.  I hopped back in my truck, drove to the same stop sign and finally saw the sign marking the highway I needed.  The darkness had made it difficult to see and I had almost missed it.

John was sent to be a witness (martyr) to the Light, to prepare the way of the Lord’s coming.  He was commissioned to tell the truth, to testify to the Truth.  Just as the clerk and the gas station light provided enough light and direction for me to get home – John stood like a sign pointing the way toward Christ.

Those that had been awaiting the Messiah for so long find it difficult to receive John’s testimony.  It surprises them, catches them off-guard.  It would be like me seeing the gas station’s run-down appearance and deeming that they could not help me find my way.  The religious leaders are lost in the dark.  And, because they are lost in the dark, they are unable to recognize or witness to the Light’s coming.

T. Pierson once said, “Witnessing is the whole work of the whole church for the whole age.” He added, “A light that does not shine, a spring that does not flow, a germ that does not grow, is no more of an anomaly [abnormality] than a life in Christ which does not witness to Christ.”

In other words, like John, the Church has been called to be a witness, to testify to the Light – to prepare the way of the Lord.  We are called to be martyrs (not in the sense of seeking death or persecution) who give faithful witness.  But, even as John’s testimony is met with resistance, it should not surprise us that in giving testimony about the Light we might experience resistance from those who live in darkness.  And, we shouldn’t be entirely surprised if that darkness is embodied in even those good, religious folk – like the Jewish leaders or brothers and sisters in the Church.  To be a witness entails risk.  But, to be a faithful witness also brings life!

The Church, like John, stands like that flickering gas station light, pointing the direction home.  When the Light of Christ stands in our midst, when His coming is imminent – even as it is now – we find ourselves at a crossroads.  Will we give faithful witness?  Or, will we like the Jewish leaders resisting the Light because we have loved our darkness?

As those who stand in the midst of the barren wilderness, in the midst of our barren and broken world, let us leave the darkness and walk in God’s light, testifying to the world residing in darkness that the Light is coming again!  As such, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!  May Your Light shine in and through us, scatter our darkness, purify us with Your Love!”