This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Yesterday we heard of the shepherds testifying to all they had heard and seen. Today we hear the testimony of John. The shepherds encountered wondrous signs and words from God as they tended their flocks on the deserted hills below Bethlehem. Then they rushed to see all they had been told brought to life in a stable. Their excitement knew no bounds as they testified to all they had heard and seen. In contrast to the immediacy of the testifying of the shepherds, John’s testimony came after a lifetime of preparation.
There is a subtle difference in the meaning of the two words: testify and testimony. Testify, meaning to bear witness, to make a solemn declaration or to give evidence, has a greater sense of urgency to it. It carries the undertone of the person testifying wanting (or needing) to get their story told as soon as possible, just in case the memory fades or changes, or just in case he or she persuades themselves that it was all a dream! In contrast to this, testimony is about evidence or proof or, as listed in the dictionary, divine law. Giving testimony has a greater feel of being something that is gathered, collated, indexed and prepared. The validity of testimony, in this sense, is no less accurate or important than the account offered by the one who dashes out to testify but, rather, it carries an additional sense of gravitas because it has been long in coalescing into a coherent message.
The shepherds responded with immediacy and haste. They rushed to the stable to testify, to make known what had been told them about this child. John spent thirty years preparing himself for the moment when God led him to give his testimony of repentance, confession and baptism. The question for us, as we step into a new year, is which approach will we take? Has our celebration of Christmas fired us up with an urgent enthusiasm to testify alongside the shepherds? Or, has Christmas 2020 left us with the certainty that God now requires us to share the story that we have known so long, but have only just become ready to share with others?
The important thing is this … whether we are with the shepherds or with John, share the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed!
Let us make 2021 the year of true evangelism.