There it is— right under the tree— the enormous gift you bought just for him. Shiny green paper hides its identity; bright red ribbons run up each side and meet neatly into a plush, poufy bow. When the time is just right, you get up, walk over to this gift, and sllliiiiiddde it over to him.
You watch as he sits there in a pile of wrappings, ribbons, and bows, gazing at this enormous box. Almost instantly he pushes it away, reaches down, grabs the shiny green paper, cocks his head, mystified: “Where did you get this amazing paper?” He grabs the red ribbon: “How beautiful!” He lifts the poufy red bow: “This is best gift anyone can give!”
Expect that?... Probably not. After all, what is the real gift given? The television, right? This man pushes the real gift away and instead fixate on the objects that are not presents.
Yet, that happens. Christmastime for many reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger— without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
God does not want you getting lost in the Christmas chaos and losing focus on what joy Christmas really brings. So, he sends John to Testify about the Light! For you to Hear it and for you to Share it.
That is the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light. That “Light” is a person. That person reveals something important; he reveals the only way you can stand acceptable before God. That person, that “Light,” is the Christ. So, John stands in the desert, in a region just north of the Dead Sea, announcing: “The Christ is here!”
“Christ” is a special name. In the New Testament, you hear [the name]: “Jesus Christ;” in the Old Testament, you hear [the name]: “Messiah.” [The name] “Messiah” is the Old Testament way of saying “Christ.” (“Messiah” is a Hebrew word, and when you bring it into the Greek language, you get “Christ.”
Now, remember, names have meanings. For example, my name, “Andrew,” comes from a Greek word meaning: “strong, manly;” my name describes manliness. Maybe you know the meaning of your name (or at least have visited one of those novelty shops which sell cards with your name printed on top and its meaning underneath). The name “Christ” (and “Messiah”) means “Anointed One.” To “be anointed” means to “be set apart for a specific mission.” Our Old Testament reading (this morning) tells you what Christ is set apart to do: He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from [spiritual] darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn… to bestow on them a crown of beauty… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3).
So, when John cries out: “The Christ is here!” it is a message meant to grab people’s attention. God has kept his promise; he sent a Savior. Jesus clears away uncertainty as to how you stand before God; he lights up the fact that he alone lifts off your burden of sin. John Testifies about the Light for all people to hear.
Many hear it— at least, the message enters their ears. Priests and Levites rush out to John not so interested in what Christ brings. Rather, they search for someone they want. “Are you Elijah?” they ask. Many of the Jews created a belief that Elijah would return heaven and free them from their Roman oppressors. “Are you the Prophet?” they wonder. After all, Moses promised a great prophet was coming (Deuteronomy 18:15). The [capital-P]rophet would be God’s Son, but the Jews just wanted another great teacher.
John repeatedly points at Jesus and says: “Ask about him!” And yet, so many are fixated on the shiny green wrapping paper, the red ribbons, the poufy bows of John, instead of worshipping the Christ.
Has anything changed? Many still push aside the need for a Savior and embrace pleasures and treasures of this world. Department stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Homegoods is currently airing a commercial with families and friends gathered around Christmas presents and feasts. It is heart-warming to watch loved ones come together to celebrate Christmas. Except, it’s not Christmas they are celebrating. The commercial ends with the tagline: Family is the greatest gift (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vXVbwfJlpA&index=1&list=PLtyMkMtSY__Ht5ielBr7DeKPXwXFaE6aQ).
Is that really the greatest gift you have ever received? Family? …They never disappoint you? …Never frustrate you? …Never let you down or irritate you? …Fill you absolutely complete and lasting joy?
This is just one example of how the heart searches for something of lasting value. The heart craves happiness. It seeks security. It wants certainty in an uncertain world. Yet, by ignoring John’s message about the Christ, that heart will only remain in spiritual darkness.
During Christmastime, it is easy to shove aside the good news of a Savior born for you. You may grab the wrapping paper of presents, considering your stuff to be more important than worshipping the newborn King on Christmas Day. You may tug and hug the red ribbons of family, making time for them, but no time to sigh a prayer of thanks that God has kept an ancient promise. You may hold up that red poufy bow of self-worship, claiming that you only need Jesus when life gets tough.
Pushing aside John’s message of “Christ is here!” pushes aside the Savior God gives you! And so, God sends John to Testify about the Light for you to hear it.
Hear again the life-changing news of a Savior born for you! Yes, even if you have the Christmas account memorized, appreciate just how majestic your Jesus is. Even if you were a slave kneeling in the dust, removing Jesus’ grimy shoes, that would be far too high of a position! He does not come to enslave you, but to lift you up from servant-hood and to make you a citizen of his kingdom! Remember, that is what “Christ” comes to do.
And this is what “Christ” has done. He binds up your guilt-broken heart with his healing words: “Forgiven. Removed. Done.” He proclaims freedom from sin and death by rising from the dead and saying: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). He comforts all those mourning by saying: Those who believe in me will never die, but live forever in heaven (Revelation 7:13-17). Christ has accomplished what he has been set aside to do. He has set you free from sin forever—and plainly tells you this.
Hear John to Testify about the Light. This is the purpose of his ministry. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. This good news that Jesus has rescued you (and me) from our self-centered choices is the only message that will bring life. Since you hear it, it means you are equipped to share it.
Yes, you. God equips you to share the good news of Jesus with others. I would imagine that you are quite aware that many still need to hear about the Savior. After all, every Christmas you hear the slogans: “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That is true, Christmas is about Jesus. Yet, I also wonder how often those slogans are lobbed out to shame people for not worshipping Christ, instead of being slogans meant to invite people to worship Christ. Or, many Christians watch the national news and mourn the decline of respect and the increase of materialism. Those issues are disheartening— but do remember, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. My point is this: You can mourn that many are losing focus on Christ, but by worrying about events in a place thousands of miles away, you may overlook what is happening in your community, your neighborhood, or among your friends and family.
If it is really an issue that so many lose sight on the real joy found in Christmas, then identify ways to correct that misguided focus. So, instead of shaking your head at a Marshall’s commercial which claims “Family is the best gift,” reflect on your own heart, and see what it considers to be the best gift. Is your heart misguided? Do the hearts of your children lose sight on Jesus? If so, correct it by pointing at Jesus!
If you mourn that the world loves stuff, ask yourself: “Am I materialistic?” “Does my neighbor love stuff more than God?” And if you see yourself, your family, your friends, your neighborhood lose sight on the gift of Savior, then like John the Baptist, point to Jesus!
Share God’s gift of a Son. Are you a parent?... grandparent? If so, God has handed you the special privilege of teaching a child. You are the one who will teach your child how to eat and get dressed. You will help them with homework, buying a car, and setting up savings for the future. Even as they become adults, they still call you “mom” or “dad.” God has seen fit to make you their caretaker.
Remember the most important thing you will ever teach: the Savior. God uses your parent-child relationship for you may share Jesus. Regardless if your child is age 4 or 40, you can still bring up the fact that only Jesus comforts a heart burdened with sin. Only Jesus gives the crown of eternal life.
Are you a friend or neighbor? You build special relationships with people. That relationship is a bridge (if you will) to carry the love of Jesus into someone else’s life. If you know of someone who will spend this Christmas wrapped up in their house and unsure of a Savior, then invite them to join you in Christmas Eve & Day worship.
And if you’re thinking to yourself: “Boy, this all sounds so scary. I can’t possibly just talk about Jesus to random people,” then remember, God does not tell you to knock on the doors of strangers and suddenly blurt out what you believe. Simply reflect on the relationships you hold, the opportunities you get to speak, and the message you get to share with the world. God uses you to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
And yes, you do not currently live in New York City or Seattle or Houston or St. Louis; you live in central Michigan. Yet, you can still share Jesus around the world. How? Through your offerings. Recognize that God uses your offerings here—to staff a pastor, to provide Christ-centered resources, to maintain a house of worship. Your ministry is to bring Jesus to others! Some of your offerings goes towards staffing Pastors at churches (just starting out). Your Wisconsin Synod has churches in all 50 states and all over the world. Through your prayers and support, those congregations carry the bright light of Jesus to many lost in spiritual darkness. You may not see the results of your offering this side of eternity, but one day you will. Recognize how God has blessed you and recognize the opportunity you have to Testify about Jesus, the Light.
Because many are getting ready for Christmas. For many Christmastime reaches its high point in cookies and candies, trees and lights, carols and programs, presents and family. Many overlook the real joy unwrapped in the Christmas-day manger—without a second thought— and instead fixate on gifts that provide only short-lived joy.
So, God sends out John with wonderful news: The Christ has come! This Christ binds up your sin-broken heart. He comforts you with his promises. He releases you from hell. He is a gift that will never grow old or outdated. He is the Gift who will last forever.
Hear this message. Remain focused on the real joy Christmas brings. With that joy burning in your heart, share this tremendous message. John Testifies about the Light for you to Hear it and for you to Share it.