“He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” John 1:8
One danger of all who engage in Christian ministry, the most important mission in the world, is to think too highly of ourselves. It is a short fall from making much of Jesus to attempting to use Jesus to make much of yourself as though we are the point. The Gospel writer, John, explains regarding John the Baptist, it is never the follower of Christ who is the Light or the point; it is the one to whom followers bear witness.
We must constantly say to ourselves and others along with John the Baptist, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). Jesus does say to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:14-16).
But the light Jesus refers to is derivative of the light of Jesus, the derivative light’s purpose is to glorify God, not man. Disciples are always to know that their point and purpose is not themselves but their Lord.
As Christians, we must not think too much of ourselves, but neither should we think too little. In union with Christ, a disciple’s light, life, and witness will not be ineffective or unilluminating. Of the one who is “not the light (John 1:8),” John’s Gospel records Jesus’s description of him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). A lamp is not itself a light, it is the bearer of a light. That was true of John the Baptist and it is to be true all other believing witnesses.
As we celebrate “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) during Christmas, may we imitate the sent-ness and mission of John the Baptist as one who exists to bear witness (John 1:7). John’s prologue is a symphonic celebration of Christ, the incarnate Word, and it repeatedly identifies him as the true light (John 1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9). The life and light that comes to us through faith union with Jesus the Word should produce mission and purpose in our lives as those who bear witness to Christ, the true light.
Jesus explains that the purpose of Scripture in its entirety is to bear witness to him (John 5:39) and the same is true of our lives too. We must avoid attempting to use Jesus to make much of our light rather than pointing to his. The transition is often subtle and can be easily justified by all the good we are doing in his name. Once again, John the Baptist is a good guide when he asserts, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Merry Christmas—you are not the light! What a liberating truth. Our light brightens and dims but his will never lessen (Rev 22:5).