The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5
This word from the book of John comes at the end of his gospel’s opening paragraph. As the Advent season comes to a close I think it’s fitting that in reflection of Christ’s birth, this proclamation is where we end. And, oddly enough, this same proclamation is where Jesus’ earthly life begins. On Christmas morning, the light has dawned, and it will not relent.
The light shines in the darkness. John proclaims that the light shines in the present tense: the light is here! On Christmas morning, the light shines! The Jesus who died was raised to life. The light shines! And while Christians believe this, the darkness is also present. There is a continuing struggle that inexorably includes pain and joy both of which wait for their final resolution.
This struggle is shared by all, whether it is wishfully waiting for a letter, looking for family arriving for the holidays, yearning for a wedding day, or anxiously anticipating the birth of a first born child. We are also familiar with more ominous sorts of waiting: longing for relief from chronic pain, enduring chemotherapy (or even just the flu), or hoping for the grief to subside after a tragic loss. Theologian Jeremy Begbie speaks of the specific tension Christians face as they wait in the midst of delay:
The waiting need not be empty or void. You are enriched in the waiting. Hope lives in the midst of delay. I am not saying anything as crass as delay is always good for you. Many of you here will be coping with awful delay…waiting for this, waiting for that…but don’t we have to say that there is a kind of waiting in the midst of delay where we learn something new of incalculable value that can be learnt in no other way?
And the darkness has not overcome it. As a child I would play late into the night, beaming my flashlight out into the expanse of a dark field with friends. I have borne witness to the fact that even the smallest of lights shines in the darkness. I am not saying that the presence of light negates the reality of the darkness. The struggle between the two is all too real. But no matter how black the darkest of nights gets, it cannot swallow the light. Not ever.
Advent reminds us that Jesus has and will claim the victory. It repostures us as we hope in the midst of delay. It reminds us of the day when Jesus Christ our King will throttle, overpower, and fully consume the darkness when he returns. And darkness will have no say in the matter. Like Job proclaims in his advent anthem:
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19.25-27)
The Son of God who was born on Christmas morning is the same who has overcome the darkness of sin in our lives by the resurrection and in the same cosmic victory has overcome and claimed us with his matchless love. In him, every day is both a Joy to the World and a cry of O Come O Come Emmanuel. Know that this proclamation and plea has not gone unanswered. For in the end the victory goes–and will always go–to the light.
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one. (T.S. Eliot)
Merry Christmas, indeed.