John, the first human we meet in John’s Gospel, is immediately identified as “sent from God… to testify to the light.”
John is a recipient of the light and that is his identity. He is one sent to share what he has received with others. He is not described as the baptizer or prophet, but as a “witness.” It is a term used more than thirty times in John’s Gospel.
“Witness” is derived from the ancient Greek word, “martyria,” from which we get our word “martyr.” We have an early hint in this Gospel, which is further spelled out in the Synoptics, as to how John will meet his fate: he will be martyred for witnessing to the light God has sent into the world.
John’s fate is also a hint to the opposition those who follow the Light of the world will meet. By our baptism we, like John, are called to be witnesses to the Word made flesh.
What kind of witnesses shall we be? It depends on how well we have come to personally know Jesus — where and how do we see and hear him in our lives?
We experience him today in the Word and Sacrament; in the teachings of our Church; in our faith community; and among the poor, the outcast, and those in prison and on death row.
As Christmas draws closer and we hear the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, we are reminded that Christ is also found among displaced refugees and exiles. We also meet the Word in the world of nature, the arts, and in our quiet times of prayer.
In these and many other places, the light pierces the darkness of our world. Like John, we are then to be voices that prepare for the coming of Christ.
One of the most direct ways of witnessing to our faith in Christ is by talking about it. Perhaps Catholics are the shyest believers when it comes to “giving witness.” Surely we can find ways to do that without being confrontational, or “in the face” of people.
How could I be a “voice” that prepares for Christ’s coming? By witnessing to my faith in my church community through active participation in parish and diocesan ministries; being part of my civic community’s efforts, especially in these trying pandemic days, to help the poor, abused, uneducated, and migrant; speaking up for the unborn, terminally ill, and those condemned to die; protesting violence towards minorities, Muslims, and the undocumented; loving our enemies; and being a voice for God’s beloved creation.
What would you add to that list?