In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John 1.4, 5
Life = Light
Quite a bit of light gets thrown in the Advent/Christmas chronicle, all of it converging in a single Beam of divine illumination, Christ. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” Isaiah 9.2 says, predicting Jesus’s arrival on Earth and His ultimate victory over the grave. But we cheat ourselves by not delving into the Scriptural references to light and parsing its nuances, because Jesus isn’t the only luminary in the Nativity story. In the end, we also shine. And if we don’t recognize His coming illuminates us, we remain in darkness, like those John describes as having not understood His purpose and plan.
John equates life with light. The life Jesus brought into the world ignites light in us. In Him was power over darkness and death, which He willed to His followers as His agents of life. In ancient times—and even now—dark times are uncertain and fraught with peril; thieves and murderers steal through the shadows, destroying the good that is done by day. The life Christ gives not only mitigates darkness; it enables us to restore the losses suffered under cover of night. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” We are full of life, which means we are full of light.
Light = Life
The Eastern Star, the heavenly host illuminating the shepherds’ pasture, and angelic auras that startled Mary and Joseph out of their sleep pulsed with life. They were intended as more than spectacular stage effects or magical storybook touches. They pierced impenetrable darkness with truth that the nefarious hold of evil and deceit had been loosed, that the finality of death was no more. The next chapter in God’s creative epic was underway. And it began precisely as the last one started: “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” (Genesis 1.3) In the beginning, light brought life. Now, in this chapter, life brings light. In the first chapter, the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted in unworthy knowledge that overshadowed the knowledge of God and plunged the world into darkness. The penalty for their sin was death. When Jesus came to live among us, His life reestablished the knowledge of God as our light and restored the gift of eternal life. John says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1.9) The magnitude of this miracle is incomprehensible, however. “The darkness has not understood it.”
This Little Light of Mine
Tradition holds that we give gifts at Christmas to emulate the generosity of the Magi, who offered exquisite presents to the Christ Child. If we held strictly to this concept, though, wouldn’t we bring symbolic offerings to the church, perhaps, as an act of worship? Exchanging gifts between us would seem most inappropriate. But it’s not. The giving of gifts in fact emulates God’s gift to us—the gift of life and light in His Son. Jesus gave His light to us and, in turn, commands us to give that light to others. “You are the light of the world,” He preaches in the Sermon on the Mount, which essentially serves as His followers’ manifesto. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.14, 16) When we give gifts at Christmas, we tangibly practice the behaviors and attitudes that Jesus instructs us to adopt every day of the year.
That little Sunday school ditty we loved as children, “This Little Light of Mine,” carries tremendous force we should actively apply as adults. We’ve been given light to shine into dark places, to warm and brighten dark spirits, and to illuminate dark circumstances. We’ve got enormous creative power that we can’t hold back for our own enlightenment and enjoyment. Jesus came to enable us to do what He did—to bring light to people and places bereft of hope, joy, and love. We can say, “Let there be light.” His life in us is the light of men. People won’t always understand it. We may have trouble comprehending it as well. But we know it works. Our presence is a present. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
The light Jesus brought into the world is given to us so we can give it to others. We too can say, "Let there be light!"
(Tomorrow: He Cares for You)