“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
In addition to being a part of the assigned lectionary text for Christmas Day (John 1:1-18), this verse has been a call and response litany in my congregation’s mid-week worship for the season of Advent. The light shines in the darkness—and, of course, as we all anticipate Christmas (and with it the ever growing numbers of tiny light bulbs adorning trees, houses, and shopping centers), we all know that this light is Jesus. But John gives us more insight than that: “What has come into being in him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people” (1:3b-4).
On Christmas Eve, millions will light up candles and luminaries to celebrate the birth of the Christ child 2000 years ago – the light of the world. On Christmas Day, perhaps it is time to move beyond the birthday celebrations into a consideration of what that light really means. As much as it certainly feels so, especially at Christmas time, the Christ child is not a “night light.” This light of the world was not intended exclusively (if at all!) to bring comfort and warm feelings to those around him. He didn’t come to be beautiful (if he had, he wouldn’t have been born in an animal stall and laid in a feed trough to sleep!) or peaceful (indeed, the brightest light that did shine on the day he was born – the star over Bethlehem – ultimately led Herod’s soldiers to bring about destruction and death). The Christ Child—the light of the world—came both to be and bring life.
And so, we ask, what is life? Is it driving around in a luxury car boasting reindeer ears and a Rudolph nose (which seems to be proliferating in my neighborhood of late)? Or any other luscious displays of wealth and abundance that the holiday season gives us in the wealthiest country the opportunity to accrue? Or is it enough food to fill the belly of a North Korean orphan after storms and floods have left the nation in ruins? Is it owning the newest version of the ipad or whatever technical gizmo all our friends are clamoring for? Or is it security in the wake of a tyrannical government for which, in the wake of this Fall’s violence, Libyan civilians await?
Merriam-Webster defines life as “the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body.” So this Christmas, I ask – what quality is that?
“All things came into being through him and without him not one thing has come 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” (John 1:3b-5).
It’s easy enough to understand the economics behind Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the commercialism that surrounds the Christmas season. But perhaps we might shine a better “light” on Christmas by considering, instead, the political economy behind God’s decision to send Jesus to earth. What did God have to gain? Good Friday will tell us what God had to lose. But today, on Christmas morning, John reminds us of the incarnation’s driving force – life. “And the life was the light of all people.”
Where do you see life this Christmas? Where do you see Christ at work still bringing life to others? What darkness do you see that needs Christ’s light?
The Rev. Amy Allen is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and a Theology and Practice fellow in New Testament at Vanderbilt University. She and her family reside in Franklin, TN where they attend the Lutheran Church of Saint Andrew.
This article is part of the series, the Politics of Scripture. While the focus of the series is on weekly preaching texts, we welcome commentary on sacred, classic, and profane literature, film, and artistic expression. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.