The light of the world
John’s Gospel shines a torch onto the darkness of our lives. Simoney Girard asks what our response will be to Jesus this Christmas.
Thousands will watch as the famous Oxford Street lights are switched on at Christmas. British Christmas traditions emphasise light. It’s not surprising – colourful candles, fairy lights and lanterns cheer us in the protracted winter nights.
Add to this man’s natural dislike of darkness, with its connotations of death, danger and despair, and you can understand why light and darkness so well describe the human condition.
Light in the darkness
These metaphors dominate John 1:1-14, where the apostle introduces us to Jesus Christ. John’s version of the Christmas story is set not in Bethlehem but in a world of spiritual darkness – into which Christ dawns as the Sun of Righteousness.
John likens the human condition to the primordial earth, where ‘darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Genesis 1:2). Surveying that darkness was ‘the Word’ – the second person of the Trinity – who ‘was with God and was God’ and through whom ‘all things were made’ (John 1:1-3).
And out of the black chaos, he spoke, creating light and life (Genesis 1:3) – the sun to blaze by day and the moon to beam by night.
Difficult as it is to grasp, this is the same Jesus who, says John, broke into the spiritual bleakness of our world two millennia ago during the Roman occupation of Israel. This baby was the promised messiah who would bring God’s message of salvation to his people.
Israel should have been expecting him. Six hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had declared: ‘Behold, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has the light shined’ (Isaiah 9:2).
John tells us that this prophecy has come true: ‘The light [that is, Jesus] shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5). With the coming of Christ, the spiritually blind would see, the prisoners of sin would be set free, the King would dwell with his people and the darkness would not withstand him.
But, tragically, ‘The true light … was in the world … yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him’.
The light shone but people closed their eyes. The King came but his subjects didn’t know him. A choir of angels lit the sky above the hills and shepherds ran to see the Christ-child. But Bethlehem’s busy townsfolk closed their hearts and minds.
Life from the dead
Ironic, wasn’t it, that the very people crowding into Bethlehem for Cesar’s census had a King among them who needed no census – because he knew each one of them by name. The royal star shone above the house where Jesus lay, but those who groaned under Roman occupation and begged God for a deliverer, tried to extinguish his light when he came to their rescue.
They crowned their king with thorns and nailed the Creator to a cross. How dark was that day.
But the ‘comfort and joy’ of the Christmas message is that the baby who became the Saviour – through his atoning work upon the cross – is now the Lord of heaven and earth. The word-made-flesh rose from the grave, broke the bands of sin and death and has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Thus it is that eternal light and everlasting life are offered to all who trust in Jesus Christ.
The King still comes to us
Comfort and joy? Look around. As 2008 draws to a wintry close such things seem far away. Fear stalks the marketplaces of the world, and the angelic strain – ‘peace on earth, [God’s] goodwill towards men’ – falls on deaf ears.
There are wars and rumours of wars, suffering and uncertainty. Superstition and atheism wield twin sceptres over the minds of men. They grope blindly for support but when they hear that ‘Christ can set you free’ they stumble away in anger.
‘He came to his own, and his own received him not’. How many more Christmas messages will you hear, and do nothing in response? Their king came to them, and they crucified him. Your king comes to you saying, ‘If you seek me, with your whole heart, you will find me’ (Jeremiah 29:13).
Will you receive him? Or will you turn away because his message doesn’t fit your own idea of God? Jesus says: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Open your eyes and live.