“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not
one thing came into being. What has come into being in him
was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines
in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I am homo borealis, a human being in the earth’s northern hemisphere. Unlike those in the southern half of the world, I am dreaming of white Christmases, open sleigh rides, the nip of Jack Frost, warm earmuffs, and hot mulled cider. In the north we have long traditions of warding off the darkness as the sun sinks to its lowest ebb. This time of year we delight in lighting candles, setting out luminarias, burning Yule logs, and putting up colored lights everywhere. We like to celebrate the light against the darkness. My Jewish neighbor will soon be lighting her Hannukah candles and singing, “Don’t let the light go out!”
As a little boy no one had to teach me to be afraid of darkness and what I feared the darkness might conceal. You would not believe the monsters appearing in my room every night when my mother turned out the light. It felt like a great cosmic battle between good and evil erupting from under my bed. Even for grownups, darkness is a powerful metaphor for all the worst we fear might happen. Most of us can speak of “dark times” in our lives when we endured our greatest pain and confusion.
It is no surprise to discover that in the Bible darkness is “a rich spiritual metaphor for spiritual realities… opposed to God’s purpose of order and goodness in the universe and in human society.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Ed. Leland Ryken, James Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III) The Bible opens in Genesis with God moving against the “darkness” covering the earth and commanding, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:2-3). Here we see the eon-old battle between light and darkness, good and evil, God and Satan.
The opening lines of John’s Gospel pick up on this battle. It was “in the beginning” that Jesus the Word brought light to the world, and it is Jesus the Word who shines in the darkness of our world today. And “the life that was the light of all people” will not be defeated. The darkness exists only within God’s sovereign purpose. The gospel good news assures us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Bible translators like to remind that the Greek word katalambano, translated here as “overcome”, can also be translated “comprehend”. That is how the King James and some other versions render it: “the darkness did not comprehend it.” John does show a fondness for using words with double meaning; he might be saying that the darkness of the world did not “comprehend” Jesus, nor did it “overcome” Him. As the gospel story unfolds we will see both meanings of katalambano holding true. The suffering of Jesus on the cross was the world’s defeat and casting down of Satan. Jesus faced death declaring victory, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).
From the other side of the cross and the resurrection John can joyfully say, “The light shines in the darkness.” Yes, the light “shines” right now, present tense! However frightening the dark times we face, Jesus is the light that overcomes. Martin Luther had it right: “The Prince of Darkness grim, / We tremble not for him; / His rage we can endure, / For lo! his doom is sure, / One little word shall fell him.” (Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress)
So again, this Christmas I will be lighting candles, setting out luminarias, and putting up bright lights, all to celebrate the light and life that are in Jesus the Word. Yes, we see His glory!
- What has been a dark time in my life? What was the darkness like for me?
- Where might I need the “light” of the life of Jesus in my life right now?
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
For a moment hold your PALMS DOWN in a symbolic gesture of letting go to God your worries for the day, the busyness of the season, and expectations of the way the holidays ought to be. Release all of these concerns to God.
Next, hold your PALMS UP as a symbolic gesture of receiving God’s gifts, provision, and guidance for today.