The light shines in the darkness

 

“On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs, as if to say, well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.”  (Kazran Sardick, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol)

Light is a significant theme running through Christmas celebrations, whether in the form of electric lights on the tree, candles on the windowsill, or the star shown on the cards we send.  For those of us living in the dank and dark of a northern hemisphere winter, this represents a boost to our flagging midwinter morale, but the theme of midwinter light wasn’t invented by cold and wet Europeans.  It precedes us by millennia.

The highlight of many Christmas services is the first 14 verses of John’s gospel, including the key incarnation verse:

The true light that gives light to everyone came into the world.

(John 1:9)

This is the mystery of the incarnation: that God who is light himself (1 John 1:5), who created light in the first place (Genesis 1:3), and who will be forever the only source of light in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 22:5), came into the world he created, to bring us the eternal light of his presence.  We no longer need to pray the ancient collect “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord” for he has already done it!  We people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! (Isaiah 9:2)

And he continues to do it, even in the darkness of this present age.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).  Bringing his light into our lives, Jesus enables us to shine like stars (Philippians 2:15).  He makes us the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), as we blogged about nine Christmases ago.

At this time of year, we often send cards and greetings to one another, praying for the light to come into each other’s lives or commending the light to them.  Perhaps a more appropriate prayer would be that we would shine the light so brightly that those living in darkness will be attracted to it.

May the light of Jesus be in you, and shine out of you, this Christmas!

The Light of the World

Jesus does not often share his titles with others. There is no reference in the Bible to other people being Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, Logos or the Lamb of God, so when he does, we should listen carefully.

Jesus himself is the Light.  John’s gospel makes this clear in six separate but related passages*, most notably in the first chapter, and in the powerful statement of Jesus I am the Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5).  This imagery, echoed in the writings of Peter and Paul as well as John’s letters, builds on the famous Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, which are often read out at Christmas, such as:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;

those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them (Isaiah 9:2)

These prophecies feed powerfully into the birth narrative in Luke’s gospel as well, and light is an essential part of the Christmas imagery – the star, the angels, God’s glory shining – which we now express in candles and Christmas tree lights.  The light comes into the world, exposes the darkness, and shows people how to live.  Literally appropriate in the dark heart of a European winter, figuratively light has both an intellectual aspect and a moral aspect – we understand better and we behave more responsibly.  In the New Testament letters, ‘walking in the light’ thus becomes a metaphor for both theological learning and ethical  living.

This capacity to reform the world makes Jesus utterly unique.  Nobody else is associated with bringing light into the world.  It is an attribute of God alone, and underlying the imagery of light in the darkness is an implicit statement of the divinity of Jesus – only he is associated with God – is God – dwelling in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).

Until he shares this with us. You are the light of the world, he says to his followers in Matthew 5:14.  He calls us children of light (Luke 16:8, John 12:36), thereby making us partakers in the divine nature and participants in the divine mission.  Our identity is wrapped up in his.  We are instructed not to hide this light but let it shine in front of people, something we are often reluctant to do in this politically correct generation.

How we live our lives will determine how effective we are in spreading this light.  The light has shone in our hearts and we are lights in the middle of this world (Philippians 2:15).  We are called to let this inner transformation inform our choices and impact our behaviour.  Let us therefore consider how we may go into the world, as the Father sent Jesus, to bring light to the people who still walk in darkness.

* John 1:4-9, 3:19-21, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-6, 12:46