Darkness is an apt metaphor for 2020. Yet in spite of how we might feel at the end of this long year, we are surrounded by lights on trees and houses, in windows and on lawns. Why are we drawn to light? Why do we long for the days to lengthen and for the gray of winter to fade away?
God made light and darkness and he called them day and night. There was nothing evil in night. But when sin entered the world, night and darkness became places to hide and symbols for places where sin and evil rule.
Matthew and Luke began their gospels with Jesus’ birth, his entrance into the darkness of this world. Mark launched immediately into Jesus’ mission as the son of God who would suffer and die before being resurrected and glorified. John begins, not with Jesus’ birth, nor his mission, but with his eternal existence.
“In the beginning” Jesus was already there. Everything and everyone else has a beginning, but not Jesus. Yes, as Matthew and Luke recount he was born as a man, but he had always been. He had always been with the Father. He had always been God. And from before the beginning of time, the beginning of the earth or the universe, Jesus had always been the Light. And now with darkness reigning, Jesus has come to earth, born as a man, but still God from all eternity. He came and shone in the darkness and the darkness could not, cannot, and will not overcome the Light.
John’s teaching that Jesus is God and that he is the Light was not new. He was connecting with a significant theme in Isaiah. Isaiah spoke of a savior who would come, someone who would be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa 7:14). Other deliverers had represented God to man (Exod 7:1), but this one would truly be God among men. This savior would be called Mighty God, and he would be the great Light that would shine on people who walk in darkness (Isa 9:2, 6). This savior would be a suffering servant whom God would make a Light to the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6) and who would carry our sorrows, be crushed for our sins, and bring us peace. He would bear our iniquity, to make us righteous in him (Isa 52:13–53:12).
This is the story of Christmas. The Light has come into our darkness and he has conquered sin and death. We try hard, in the darkness of our own lives, to light our way, but the savior Isaiah promised comes for those who realize they have no light of their own, to those who trust the name of the Lord, and in the Light he has given to the world. May God grant us eyes to see and hearts to receive the Light that shines forth from before the beginning.
J. Michael Thigpen (Ph.D.) serves as Provost and Professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary. His special areas of interest are prophetic literature, God’s motives, and the theology of work and economics in the Old Testament. Dr. Thigpen’s passion is to help the church connect more deeply to the Old Testament by understanding its literary nature and historical background. He and his wife Bonnie have two daughters, Abigail and Hannah.