The Light has come

Mark begins his story of Jesus, as it were, in the present: the Mission in progress: God carrying out His plan through His Son, in power.  Luke begins his story of Jesus by showing how God is always in control, moving every “piece” in the background (be that piece a priest, Zechariah, or a teenage girl, Mary, or an emperor, Caesar Augustus) to bring this salvation to the world at His appointed time. Matthew begins his story of Jesus by reminding us that His coming was the fulfilment of God’s ancient covenant promises to bless all humanity through His chosen people. But John… John starts before them all, going back eons to where the Gospel truly began.

John 1:1-2 In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. *He* was in the beginning with God.

Pointing with that Introduction to the book of Genesis, John starts the story way farther back than the other evangelists and then he rewinds the story even farther, to before that first verse of Genesis where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. 

I know that to use the word before strains the meaning of the word when we are talking about Genesis 1:1 because I believe the creation event of Genesis begins with the creation of time itself. But… indescribable as it may be, in that existence before there was time, God was not alone. The Word was with God because the Word was God, the Word has been God all along.

Why is it important to know that? Because all the Creation in Genesis happened through the Word of God; starting with that verse 1. Once the heavens and the earth were created – which to me speaks of the creation of our reality (namely, space, matter, energy, and time) – then we humans are in a position to talk about position: Thus verse 2 of Genesis tells us that the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And by then we are in a universe of cause and effect so that it makes sense to tell us humans, in verse 3 of Genesis, And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.

And there it is written explicitly. At the first moment at which it becomes possible for our minds to comprehend it, it is written that it was through the Word of God that Light came into being. And so, John summarizes it all:

John 1:3 All things received being through Him, and without him not one [thing] received being which has received being.

Everything, without exception, was created through Him, the Word of God. That is, everything that God decided needed to be created… which of course exempts Him, because He was the one doing the creating. 

At that point, Genesis then dwells on the material universe (including our planet) as God’s appointed physical home for humanity. But John’s retelling focuses instead on the reality underlying that universe: namely, its purpose for humanity: Life and Light. Those two key concepts will appear over and over throughout his gospel.

John 1:4 In him (the Word) was life, and the life was the light of men.

The Life Jesus brought, brought Light to humanity.

We know that God created physical life in Genesis. And, of course, that is utterly important; not only because we are alive but because God is the only being able to create life. But because physical life is the only life the world knows about, and because the world, in its insistence to deny God, keeps trying to claim that that life somehow arose spontaneously out of random non-life, sometimes we believers get too wrapped up in it, wrapped up trying to defend God as its creator, to the point that we forget that the real life God created in Genesis for Adam and Eve was Eternal Life.

You see, plants and animals have life. But people are the only ones created in the image of God.

The two lives are not the same.

And to John, the Life that matters, the one that Jesus talked about all the time, is eternal life: It is this eternal life that gives light to our lives: It is with that light that we see purpose in our lives. It is with that light that we perceive God moving even when our other senses cannot. It is that light that gives us hope, that shows us there is a path prepared for us, and a goal at the end of that path, even when we are surrounded by darkness.

John 1:5 And the light appears in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not.

From the very beginning, God knew all that would happen going forward. He knew that humanity would abdicate the throne he had given them, and yield it to the darkness, and thus usher in the kingdom of the world. But the Kingdom of God pre-exists that kingdom because it has always existed in the Presence of God; and it will never go away. And so, the enmity between the two kingdoms has always been with us since Genesis… the enmity and the clear difference: For Light is the truth and darkness is the lie, that is, the absence of truth. Life is the truth and death is the absence of it.

John is telling us that Let there be light was both a physical statement and a spiritual one.

The Light that eternal Life gives us, having been created by God, cannot be overcome by the darkness. (And, overcome, is one of the meanings of that word translated apprehended). But it is also true that darkness cannot understand (the other meaning of that word) the Light. And this is the tragedy of humanity, that we became utterly blind, lost, and ignorant of our birthright.

That treasure we should have had from the very beginning and kept forever – Life and Light – we squandered, traded it for less than a bowl of stew. Oh, yes, Esau was a picture for us…  but we did even worse. We traded Life and Light for death and darkness. And darkness cannot understand the Light. So, we blinded ourselves to that infinite loss. How could we ever find our way again?

Think about it. It is like being trapped underground in a stone-walled dungeon, and water is seeping in from the sea outside… slowly, inexorably. We know we are going to drown. And yes, there is a steel door with a keypad, but you need to type in the password to open the lock. And, the fact is, that right next to that door is a plaque that tells you how to figure out the password that opens that door. The problem is: the instructions are written in ancient Sumerian cuneiform. Can you read it? Can anyone you know read it?

That’s what it means when John says the darkness – us imprisoned in that darkness – cannot comprehend the Light.

It would be hopeless… except for the fact that God our Father has never stopped loving us. As Peter says, it has never been His will that any of us should perish. So, he sent the herald:

John 1:6-9 There was a man sent from God, his name John. He came for witness, that he might witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him. *He* was not the light, but that he might witness concerning the light. The true light was that which, coming into the world, lightens every man.

God therefore sent someone who could speak to us within our darkness, a voice that all could understand. How could that happen? How could we, while still in darkness, see this light John proclaimed?

The answer is: God gave him the power. Look at what his father Zechariah prophesied:

Luke 1:76 And *thou*, child, shalt be called [the] prophet of [the] Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of [the] Lord to make ready his ways;

This is not John just announcing and telling the people to make ready for the way of the Lord. He is actually making it happen, making that way ready. As Isaiah said and John testified about himself. He was the promised voice crying in the wilderness:

Isaiah 40:1-5 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her time of suffering is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God! Every valley shall be raised up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see [it] together: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken.

Did you notice how that prophecy is written? This is not talking about something that could happen, conditional on something Israel would do. No, this is the Sovereign Lord breaking through into History by His choice. Look at those repeated “shall be”. That voice crying in the wilderness will cause every valley of despondency to be raised up, every hill barring our way to be flattened, every maze of confusion straightened out, every bramble-filled and rock-strewn escarpment turned into a perfectly flat, smooth road… showing us, leading us, to the light of the glory of God.

How could John’s voice do that?

Because he was speaking the Word of the Lord.

That’s what Zechariah prophesied about his son:

Luke 1:76-79 And *thou*, child, shalt be called [the] prophet of [the] Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of [the] Lord to make ready his ways; to give knowledge of deliverance to his people by [the] remission of their sins on account of [the] bowels of mercy of our God; wherein [the] dayspring from on high has visited us, to shine upon them who were sitting in darkness and in [the] shadow of death, to guide our feet into [the] way of peace.

This is why you read in the gospels that crowds from all over Israel came to hear John and to be baptized. They recognized in his voice the Voice of God the Father calling to them. His voice brought the Light, bright as the dawning of day (the meaning of that word dayspring), and it shone through the darkness. And people, lost people, blind people, like you and me, heard that there was a chance for deliverance, because God the Father chose to have mercy on us.

That chance, John proclaimed, comes through our repenting of our sins. How can that be enough? Because the Father, in His mercy, has chosen to remit them, take them away as far as the east is from the west.

The Light gave us back the power of choice.

There is another meaning echoing through that phrase in verse 5: And the light appears in darkness. The Word of God, once spoken cannot be ignored. Yes, many people came to John, accepted his words, and were baptized. But many others came to watch and sneer. And they too, being in the presence of the Word spoken, became subject to its Light. They couldn’t help it; they couldn’t stop it. Remember, the darkness cannot overcome the Light.

And so, they too made a choice… to reject.

Not only did they reject John; they rejected the Word. Can you imagine…

John 1:10-12 He was in the world, and the world had [its] being through him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not…

Sometimes the irony in that verse seems inconceivable. How could creation itself not recognize its Creator? How could the bearers of the promise of Abraham not recognize the one who gave that promise to Abraham?

It is inconceivable. But there is one way to do it: By choice. And Jesus pointed this out to them many times…

John 5:39-40 Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; and ye will not come to me that ye might have life.

You see, we gave up our power to choose, back there in Genesis. Once we enslaved ourselves to darkness we were enslaved; powerless to reject the lure of sin.  But when the Light of the Word of God appeared, He sovereignly returned to us the power to choose. No longer bound to choose sin, we can choose to repent. We can choose to reject the kingdom of the world and gain real Life:

John 1:12-13 but as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God.

You see it there? We can choose to receive Him, to believe on His Name. This is the point of Christmas. This is what we celebrate:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth…

It strains the mind to try to comprehend God creating time and space, the infinite universe out of nothing, by just speaking the Word. It likewise strains the mind to imagine that such a God, infinite beyond every infinite measure, could enfold Himself in flesh and be born as a baby, to dwell among us, as one of us. But the Word, the Son of God, had to do that so that He could die for us.

And so, what really strains the mind is that God would love us to that extravagant extreme… that He would love us…

who though born as His children, knowingly, willingly, rejected Him…

who though born to be children of Light, even seeing that Light, turn to the darkness for refuge.

Why do we do that? Because we close our eyes. Because we cannot conceive that in His Kingdom, in His Presence, the Goodness and Life that He offers us is far far better than anything this lying world could ever give us. Because we forget that the Life and Light He offers us is Eternal, never ending, like His Love.

The good news is: His Light will not stop shining.

May His Light shine anew into your life this Christmas.

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