My family has a 2010 vehicle with old headlights. We also have a newer 2017 vehicle with bright new LEDs. The difference is amazing. I need to turn on the 2010’s high beams if I want to match the brightness of the 2017’s regular lights. Have you ever been out driving, and a vehicle with new really bright LEDs shines in your eyes and your first reaction is “Turn off your high beams, buddy! Geesh, I can’t see.” Then you realize that his lights are probably the same LEDs that you have on your vehicle. Light shining in the darkness is a regular part of our lives.
In the previous post, we learned that Christmas light displays have their origin in the biblical idea that Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.
But it wasn’t as if Jesus was somehow glowing brightly everywhere he went. There is that one story called The Transfiguration where Jesus invites three of his closest friends to join him on a hike up a mountain. There Jesus showed them his glory, turning bright white, like car LED lights on high beam, so bright, you have to turn away. But Jesus’ transfiguration was only for a brief moment. Every other moment of his life, Jesus didn’t shine. Light didn’t emanate from him. You couldn’t see him a mile away. He had a regular human body just like ours and our bodies don’t glow. We’re not fireflies. When John wrote that Jesus was the light shining in the darkness, he is referring to a different light and a different darkness.
Those words would have been quite familiar to any Jewish readers of the John’s story. Long before, in fact about 700 years before Jesus’ time, an ancient Hebrew prophet wrote some words that God gave him, words about light shining in the darkness. The prophet’s name was Isaiah, and he was living in the southern part of Israel, an area called Judah, which is where the city of Jerusalem is located. More to the point, Isaiah’s ministry took place during an era when the people of Judah were really starting to turn away from God. You could say that their way of life was dark. They were choosing to rebel against God, meaning that they were not serious about following God’s ways. They were chasing after other things, forgetting God, not giving attention to God. Getting apathetic about God. Theirs was a life of spiritual darkness.
In the middle of the darkness, God gave Isaiah a message about the darkness. In Isaiah 8:19-22, while Isaiah is describing the situation is his culture, listen for how there might be some similarities to our culture. I found it interesting how this ancient Scripture, 2700 years old, has something to say to us.
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? … If they do not speak according to [God’s] word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”
Isaiah is describing a people who are looking for answers to their problems. They are looking for help and hope in the middle of a world that is dark. Maybe that resonates with you. Maybe in some way your world feels dark this Christmas.
I’m not a believer in the idea that the world is definitely worse than it used to be. Maybe it is. I could be wrong. What I think is much more helpful to talk about is the reality that there are numerous people in our world who are looking for answers, people whose hope is fading, people who are feeling desperation. They look around themselves and feel, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally, as if they are in a kind of darkness.
In recent years, I think many of us felt some of that darkness, as we endured the Covid pandemic, and as we continue to endure divisive politics, racial upheaval, and financial pressure. Though we are not in a war, and we cannot imagine what it must be like for people in Ukraine or Myanmar who are, we can feel an emotional heaviness about war. As a result, we look for answers. Inwardly we can wonder, “What will help me feel okay?”
In the next post, we’ll try to at least begin to answer that important question.