When approaching an airport in low light conditions, a pilot is trained to look for the airport’s beacon. You’ve surely seen them as well. They are particularly noticeable near a smaller airfield where roads often pass by in close proximity. Often when there are some low level clouds lingering about, you’ll see the white and green beams streaking across the sky. From the air, these lights are visible from many miles away, helping a pilot flying under Visual Flight Rules get their bearings and begin the approach process. If you can’t see the beacon at the airport, you can’t legally land there under VFR.
The beacon image came to mind this morning as I was reading John’s version of the John the Baptist story. The lectionary assigns selected verses from John 1 (6-8, 19-28), including three from the familiar and beloved prologue. With its dual themes of Word and light, the prologue sets up for the reader the theological foundation of John’s Gospel. The preexistent Word was sent into the world to shine the light of God for all people. In our text for Sunday, John is careful to note that John the Baptist is not the light, but rather “he came as a witness to testify to the light.”
Both the noun “witness” and the verb “to testify” are translated from the same Greek root, martyr. John was the witness of the light who was to witness about the light. To stretch the flying metaphor above, JBap had been given the ability to see the beacon of God’s work in Christ, and was called to get on the radio to tell anyone with who would listen where to find the light. He was calling everyone back to their home field. He was inviting them all to see the light shining in the darkness of the world.
As disciples of Jesus in the 21st century, we are inheritors of this primary vocation. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus; to help our family, friends, and neighbors to see the beacon that is so often obscured by the fog of fear, anger, hurt, and regret. As followers of Jesus, we are to carry that light out into the world to help people see that in the light of Christ there is life, and that life is abundant with joy, compassion, grace, hope, and love. The world is in a constant state of low light conditions, but with the light of Christ, Christians are called to shine in the darkness, for as we hear in the prologue, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.