John 1:6-8, 19-2 8     Advent 3

She was in fifth grade at Sunrise Elementary school in Colorado.  Ashwanty Davis had big brown eyes, and a subtle smile.  She hoped to grow up to become a Women’s National Basketball star. Some didn’t see her as the person she was, and Ashwanty would have to endure their bullying.  When she had enough, she confronted one of the girls who were taunting her.  Someone took a video of the encounter, and it ended up on social media.  As views of the video increased, so did the bullying.  ‘“My daughter came home two weeks later and hanged herself in the closet,”’ her mother said.[1]  This little girl, who has been described as a child of joy, spent two weeks on life support before she died.  Ashwanty Davis was victim of “bullycide.”  Suicide after being bullied is so common now that we have a word for it.

There were witnesses to the fight.  The person who videotaped it and uploaded it onto the internet was a witness.  All those who watched it were witnesses, too.  Some of those people testified to what they saw by taunting Ashwanty even more.  They testified to darkness, tormenting her until she could no longer see the light.

We are witnesses every day.  We see and hear and experience things that impact others on a daily basis.  On these cold winter days, we see people walking on the street carrying everything they own because they have no permanent home in which to keep them.  We hear people telling jokes that demean a particular race or religion. This week, I read about someone who needs to choose between paying rent and paying health insurance.  How does our faith impact our witness?

Flip Wilson, when asked about his religious affiliation, said, “I am a Jehovah’s Bystander.  They wanted me to become a Jehovah’s Witness, but I don’t want to get involved.”  How does our faith impact our witness?  Our witness put into words and deeds is our testimony.  As one professor reminds us, witness and testimony are terms that come from the legal sphere, and are used when something or someone comes to trial.[2]  Witnesses are put on the stand to testify to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Perjury, bearing false witness, is not only against the law, it is against God’s commands.  Bearing false witness is a sin.  Luther explains in the Large Catechism the fullness of the eighth commandment:

No one shall use the tongue to harm a neighbor, whether a friend or foe.  No one shall say anything evil of a neighbor, whether true or false, unless it is done with proper authority or for that person’s improvement.  RATHER, we should use our tongue to speak only the best about all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our honor.  Our chief reason for doing this is the one that Christ has given in the gospel, and in which he means to encompass all the commandments concerning our neighbor, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” [285-286].

To what does your witness testify?  Or are you a bystander, afraid to get involved?  What would have happened if those who witnessed Ashwanty being bullied testified to the light of Christ’s love?

Jan Richardson writes:

…the light comes as a vivid reminder that we have, at the least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.  It matters that we hold the light for one another.  It matters that we bear witness to the Light that hold us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across border, across time….  Blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times, who testify to its endurance amid the unendurable, who bear witness to its persistence when everything seems in shadow and grief.[3]

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.  As the Gospel of John explains, Jesus is the true light, the one who creates and maintains life.  This light of Christ comes as God’s presence sitting at the bedside of someone we love.  The light of Christ comes as a friend who will see us through dark times.  The light of Christ stirs our hearts to speak out for those who have no voice.  The light of Christ illumines a path we did not even know existed.  The light of Christ brings hope.

Our witness and testimony are based on what ultimately matters–Jesus’ witness and testimony to us, for us, about us.  In the legal court language of witness and testimony, Jesus’ birth, his life, death, and resurrection will find us guilty, and declare that we are forgiven.  In this season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus to be born and for Christ to come again, live in this sure and certain hope.  Live in this light.  Witness it.  Testify to it.

There are people, sent from God, whose names are Sue and Bob, Sandy, Linda, Jane, Paul, Alan, your name and mine.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] https://www.theroot.com/10-year-old-girl-killed-herself-after-video-of-fight-wi-1820887617  web accessed December 13, 2017.

[2] Long, Thomas.  Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2004.  28.

[3] http://adventdoor.com/2014/12/12/advent-3-testify-to-the-light/ accessed December 13, 2017.

About Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.