My 8-year-old daughter is usually in bed by this time, but tonight she’s still running around, pretty excited about tomorrow morning and the gifts around our little tree. Lately when she’s been put to bed, she always insists that her door not be closed all the way. “I need to see a little bit of light,” she explained the other day. “I don’t like it too dark because there are ghosts and creepy spiders. When there’s light, they go away.”
Darkness, as a place of uncertainty and foreboding, is not just what my daughter deals with each night. We’re all dealing in various ways with the darkness of the pandemic. The other day I heard a Toronto doctor say that the light at the end of the tunnel keeps getting lost with the emergence of every new variant. Did any of you think, even a month ago, that we’d be forced onto Zoom to celebrate Christmas? And yet here we are. But even though the darkness may be real, this is still a night of joy. Tonight we celebrate light.
Tonight’s reading from the Gospel of John is an account of creation. Most of us are quite familiar with the story of creation found in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. The beginning of the Gospel of John, however, offers a different take, one rooted in the “Word,” or Logos, which we might say is God’s own self-disclosure. We’re told that all things exist in and because of the Logos, and in that sense all things—all forms of life, all rocks, hills, plains and bodies of water, even all extraterrestrial reality—all have their source in God. Furthermore, we’re told that the Logos permeates everyone and everything with light, the kind of light that shines through primordial darkness and is not overcome by it.
Reading this sort of account of creation on Christmas Eve may seem a bit out of place. Shouldn’t we be hearing the story of Joseph and Mary, about Bethlehem and no room at the inn, about shepherds at night encountering an angel, about the infant Jesus being laid in a feeding trough? (If you were at the 4pm service, you would’ve seen a fun reenactment of that story in our children’s pageant.) But tonight we turn our attention to the opening of the Gospel of John because it reminds us that light is stronger than darkness, that God’s Logos—the light of the world—has become flesh and blood. That light is the very light shining through each of us, indeed throughout the whole cosmos.
If we can be assured of anything this Christmas, it’s that the darkness we may be experiencing—the frustration, the uncertainty, the sorrow, the dread—all of it is being overcome by light. But tonight’s Gospel also tells us that the world does not perceive the light, and in that sense the world is unaware of what it has been created to be: a glowing radiance, shining with the glory of God. So we find ourselves in a liminal place of tension. The darkness is real; it is most certainly with us. But the light is also real, if we have the eyes of faith and hope to see it. What exactly is the light? It’s not a mystical phenomenon that tantalizes and in the end remains elusive. No, we’re told that the light is life, not simply a general sense of being alive but rather being alive for each other in the world. This life—this light—is a concrete way of existence that the darkness cannot stop.
Christmas, then, is not simply about the nativity story. It’s a lived-out reality that gives meaning to the past, the present and the future. The Logos assumed the flesh and blood of the Christ child long ago, but that same Logos has been shining all along in and through the lives of all who follow in his way and embody him. So in that sense Christmas presents a challenge: we are invited to cease being passive spectators and, instead, to reclaim our agency so that the light of the Logos may also shine through our own lives.
This Christmas each of us is invited to become a witness to the light. Witnessing to the light means that the light itself shines in and through us, in the way we go about our daily lives. We are all unique individuals, so each of us will shine differently, in our own way, depending on where we work and who we’re in contact with. What does it mean exactly for the light of the Logos to shine through us? It’s an important question. One fundamental conclusion we can draw about the nature of light is that it does not exist for itself. Light shines outwardly, radiating away from its source; it provides illumination and clarity; it vanquishes the darkness as long as it continues to shine, and in that way it transforms other things. I think that’s what it means for the light of the Logos to shine through us. The very light that we celebrate tonight compels us to orient our lives outwardly, to venture to the margins—whether in troubled places afar or more locally in our neighborhoods, even in our families. The light is always piercing the darkness that afflicts the world around us in so many ways, and we are invited to be agents of transformation.
There may be those among us you who, this Christmas, feel distanced from the light. Perhaps the darkness seems overwhelming. Take heart: there are many right now, even others in our very midst, in whom the light is shining brightly beyond themselves. To those of us who might know of someone who is struggling this season, let us be committed to reaching out to them with words of encouragement and acts of kindness. It just may be that the light shining through us will reignite the same light in them.
The darkness around us is real. But we celebrate tonight that the Logos became flesh and blood in a baby who grew up “and lived among us,” as tonight’s Gospel tells us, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” May the radiance of that same glory fill us all with joy this night, this season, and the coming year.