“Testimony” is what John’s gospel says Advent and Christmas are all about for those who receive the Christ child. Strange that a gospel that contains no nativity narrative should be so on-target about what this season is for.
When John’s gospel describes John the Baptist, he also gives us our job description: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” And we? We have been bidden by God also to be witnesses, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through that One who is the light of the world.
Now, testimony can be greatly misunderstood. Testifying is not a superior way of being Christian. To testify does not exempt us from embodied service to the needs of the world. Along with testifying, we are still to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, tend to the sick.
Neither is testifying a matter of coming to God’s defense as an expert witness. Nor is testifying trying to get other people to believe what we believe.
In his remarkable book “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian,” Thomas Long declares a strong truth: “Trying to persuade other people to believe what we believe, whether it’s politics, parenting, or religion, is a classic device to shore up our own uncertainty.”
No, testimony and testifying involve us with something more.
Sometimes testifying can be tough. I must admit that I’ve grown weary of acquaintances who tell me, “Well, Rev., I really don’t believe in the kind of God I see portrayed in some churches and by some so-called religious leaders.”
“Well, Mr. So-and-So,” I usually reply, “Fred Phelps is not a representative sample of what’s best in the churches.”
Lately I’ve had another sort of response. I say, “Tell me the kind of God you don’t believe in, and I’ll bet I don’t believe in that kind of God, either. Then I will tell you about the God I do believe in.”
The testimony to which John’s gospel calls us and which is so central to Advent and Christmas is talking about God and our faith as if we truly believe what we say we believe!
So, this Advent and Christmas, let followers of Jesus speak and live as if we truly, deeply enjoyed our faith, and not as if we dreaded it. (It continues to amaze me how some Christians go around with sour expressions on their countenances, as if they had been baptized in a brine of lemon juice laced with garlic.) Let us offer our testimony to the world with such enthusiastic joy that others will know the authenticity of what we proclaim: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 116:24)
It’s helpful to remember that sharing testimony does not have to be grandiloquent, opulent, or rhetorically resplendent. It can be as humble and plain as a simple greeting, one person to another. And a humble, plain greeting just may be a life-saving moment. I can testify to that!
— Bob Hill
(from ALL YOU NEED IS MORE LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019)