What it means to be a Witness

December 12, 2017



Third Sunday in Advent (B)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

John 1:6-8, 19-28


We’re told that John came “as a witness, to bear witness about the light”.


What did it mean for him to bear witness about the light?


First of all, it must mean that he had to recognise that he was not the light.  Someone else was.  There was no place for putting himself in the centre.  He had to give way.  He had to let go of his claims to being number one.


Later on in his gospel, John tells of the encounter between some of John the Baptist’s disciples and John.  They recognise that John has been bearing witness to Jesus and that the number of people now following Jesus is increasing.  John points out that this can only be happening because God is at the root of it.  John rejoices to be “the friend of the bridegroom” and declares that,


“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)


Humility doesn’t always come easily.  But with humility comes greatness.  John knew his place.  He knew the one who was to come after him was greater.  He said of him, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie”, placing himself lower than one of his servants, or one who’d wait to be called upon by this master.


Secondly, we can see clearly that John’s life pointed to the light, the light which shone brightly in the person of Jesus the Christ.  John’s role was to lead others to Jesus.


So John was a humble witness who prepared others to meet Jesus.  What about us?


The Risen Jesus, just before he ascended to heaven, told his friends that they too would be witnesses,


“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)


What does it mean for us to bear witness about Jesus?


For whatever reason, God has chosen to use witnesses to lead people to faith in Jesus.  He doesn’t do it without us.  He does it with us.  He involves us in the process of the transmission of the gospel, the good news of Jesus.  And he does it using very flawed and imperfect vessels like you and me.  Somehow, when we come to him in faith, he clothes us with the garments that enable us to bear witness, to show forth something of the glory of God, to tell, to witness to something of the truth of who God is, through how we live our lives.


I think we can only do it because the Spirit of the Lord God is upon us.  Those were the words the prophet Isaiah spoke some 700 years before Jesus stood up in the Temple and fulfilled them in the hearing of those present.  Jesus embossed everything the prophets had spoken of.  He was the fulfilment of the promise of God to send the Messiah, the anointed King whose would reign would never end.  The Spirit of the Lord God was upon Jesus and the same Holy Spirit is upon those who bear his name.


He makes it possible,


“to bring good news to the poor;

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:1-3)


These are just a taste of the things God loves and longs to see happen.  They are examples of the fruits of his kingdom of justice and righteousness.  God is making things right,


It started with John bearing witness to Jesus, who came and did all that was necessary to kick things off and leave us his Spirit to carry on what he started with the coming of the kingdom.  And in the end there will be a great banquet, where the Bride will meet her Husband.


“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;

my soul shall exult in my God,

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

to sprout up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:10-11)


If we can start to spend time, or continue spending time, getting to know this promise and getting to know the God who made it then we will become witnesses without even being aware of it.  We will become naturally supernatural.


We will begin to see others in a new light, and with a new significance.  We will see others as witnesses to Jesus, and we will be blessed and changed as a result of these encounters.  For a true witness is being led into the Truth and the Light all the time, getting closer to the Truth, deeper into the Light, and their testimony can become more and more accurate as they mature and get their story closer to the Truth.


John described this process as the Word becoming flesh and living among us.  Its what theologians call the incarnation.  Its what we celebrate at this time of year.  God is with us, Immanuel, in every way, hallelujah!


When we see God in Jesus, even as a humble baby in a manger, and understands that it was all for love sake, we begin to reflect the Light.  We begin to bear witness.


So, go humbly, and reveal Christ.  You’ve got it in you.  The power to make a difference where you are.  The strength to endure the temporal suffering of this world.  The grace to shine like a diamond.  For the Spirit of the Lord God is upon you.


In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


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