One of the saddest days of my life was the day of my father’s funeral. It was a dark, drizzly and murky winter’s day. The weather outside seemed to mirror our mood inside. We had a service in church, giving thanks for my dad’s life, and then went to the cemetery to bury him.
Amazingly though, at the exact moment when I helped lower his coffin into the ground, the clouds parted and the sun peeped out for a few moments. I took this as a little token of God’s love.
The funeral – like all funerals – was highly organised and arranged. But we could not arrange for the clouds to part and the sun to shine briefly at the exact moment it did, completely contrary to the weather forecast of that day.
Sadly, when sin came into the world via our first ancestors, the whole world was plunged into spiritual darkness – ignorance of God, rebellion against God and a lack of fellowship and harmony between us and God our Maker. Sin brought a dark rift between creature and Creator.
At the first Christmas however, it was as though almighty God parted the clouds, shone His light through and revealed His love and grace to fallen sinners.
Of the many of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies, in Isaiah 9:2,6 we read ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shined … For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.
The prophecy was most surely fulfilled in Christ at Christmas, for he was and is both the child born and the son given.
Likewise, the prophet Malachi foretold in Malachi 4:2 that ‘the Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in his wings’. Again, in Christ the prophecy was fulfilled. In his introduction to his Gospel, John explained ‘The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world’ (John 1:9). In the Christ who was born in Bethlehem, that true light most surely came.
The Light of the World is Jesus
One of the many stupendous claims Jesus made is found in John 8:12, where He asserted ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ Similarly, in John 12:46 He made the promise ‘I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness’. But what did Jesus mean here?
In the physical realm, it is light which dispels darkness and gloom. Likewise, in the spiritual realm it is Jesus who dispels our spiritual darkness. How? He does so in both his Person and in his Passion.
The Person of Christ
It is Jesus who dispels our ignorance of God, because he is God in the flesh – God in a body; God in human form. Christmas is all about the incarnation, that is, God becoming man in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is ‘God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’(Wesley).
In Christ, the incomprehensible became comprehensible. Paul could say of him, ‘For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Colossians 2:9). And Jesus said of himself ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) and ‘He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me’ (John 12:44) and even ‘He who sees me sees him who sent me’ (John 12:45).
The Passion of Christ
Most importantly, Jesus dispels the spiritual darkness in which we are by nature, by his death on the cross – his passion.
Salvation entails coming to the light of Christ and knowing reconciliation to God through the death of Christ for our sins. Christians are children of light because they belong to Jesus. Ephesians 5:8: ‘For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’.
On the cross of Calvary – thirty three years after his birth – Jesus endured the most terrible physical and spiritual darkness on behalf of his people. This was because our sins were put to his account. They were imputed to him so that he could pay their penalty.
Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was solely with the cross of Calvary in mind. On the cross he suffered the wrath of God so that when we believe in him we are saved from the wrath of God. On the cross he was momentarily separated from God the Father so that when we believe in him we are reconciled to God the Father for time and eternity – transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of his everlasting light.
The message of Christmas is thus the message that this dark world desperately needs. It is a message of light and joy concerning ‘a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11). No less than the Light of the world was born in that dark and dingy animal shelter at Bethlehem – and He invites us to come to that Light today!
O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
the silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
Timothy Cross is author of many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC.