I’ve always loved the way that St. John tells the Christmas story. It isn’t the one the little children act out with the shepherds and angels and all the famous sayings. It doesn’t speak about Gabriel appearing to Mary or Joseph. In fact, it doesn’t even mention Mary at all. No, when John tells the story it is couched in terms that are cosmic in nature. Much like the beginning of Genesis, it a grand and powerful story of light and darkness, of good verses evil. “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 were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The great advent of the Son of God is described by John as a light shining in the darkness. And while there may many images one can use to describe the reality of Christmas, you could speak about adoption or sacrifice or liberation, I think the image of light might be one of the best. For it gets to the heart of the reality of the situation. The world of mankind is a fallen world. It isn’t a neutral or gray area that can go one way or the other. As St. Paul says, “All creation groans in the pains of childbirth.” All creation is caught up in the sin and darkness that is our rebellion against our Creator. When God comes, when He arrives in the little town of Bethlehem, He comes into hostile territory. He comes as a light shining in the darkness and the darkness will do whatever it can to try and overcome the light, to snuff it out, to push it back, to end its brilliant shining.
But this is eternal light, divine light, it cannot and will not be overcome by the darkness of our age. It tried, it tried to bury Him in a tomb, to remove Him from human memory. But this light would not be so easily pushed aside. It is here to stay. And in its shining, things are being transformed. Now we don’t necessarily like what is happening, for it can be painful at times. The light of Christ has a habit of shining on things we would rather keep in the darkness. It shines and exposes the things that we have used to give us our identity and security in this world. Perhaps it shines on your greed or your lust or your selfish acts. Perhaps it reveals how you have lived as if you matter most and your neighbor, your brother and sister, why, they don’t figure into the equation. The light hurts when it shows how you have wandered far from the commands of your Creator; all that matters is what feels good, what feels right, not what he has commanded you to do.
But just as it can be a painful light, a light that we would rather not come into the dark corners of our life, it is also a light of blessing and hope. For such a light doesn’t just reveal your sin and shame, it leads you out of the prison house of sin. John says about the coming of this light, “All who receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) So the light that shines upon you is a light not only of condemnation for your sin but of salvation in the works of God alone. The light that shines is the light of the Gospel, the light that speaks forgiveness and love into your ears, the light that declares that it is not too late, that redemption is here for you this very day. This is something worth celebrating, something that brings confidence and assurance to all of us. The light that shines upon you is the light of hope and salvation.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) This light then changes us in profound ways. Not only does it cause us to despair of our own doing, but it leads us to God through His direction and promise. But then the light continues to work for our benefit, for our hope and confidence. Think about it, if the light that came all those years ago on the first Christmas morning continues to shine, even now then it is the key to living our life. It is how you can confidently engage this world. As you go out into the world, as you engage in the shadows of this age, the light shines like a lighthouse on a hill. As you look back it is still there, still shining, still making the distinction between he light and the dark, still offering you guidance and promise.
The light that shines in the darkness, the light of Christmas isn’t a once upon a time thing. It is how we live as the children of God. It is how you go about your life not wondering if you are his own children but knowing that without a doubt you are. For the light of Christ continues to shine upon you and in you and through you to others. Christmas is the cosmic story of God’s victory over the darkness, a victory that He has won for you.