The Truest Light (5pm)
Topic: The Light of Christ Scripture: John 1:1–1:4
What is your earliest memory of Christmas? Maybe you’ve already been thinking about it but it was tough for me to try and sort through all the memories and get back to what I think is my earliest one. I remember sneaking out into the garage to swipe a Christmas cookie or two. A friend of mine thought that was weird – keeping cookies in the garage. But it was always cold and never took up space on the already crowded counters in the house. But sneaking a garage cookie wasn’t my earliest memory. I can recall waiting at the top of the steps on Christmas morning. You see, my mom and dad had to always go down before us to make sure Santa was finished so we didn’t surprise him. But I don’t think that was my earliest memory either. I have a fainter memory of being held by my mom outside the front of our house. I remember it being cold on my cheeks and I remember seeing my dad up on the roof. He was putting Christmas lights up. I remember seeing the traditional colored lights hanging on the gutters. But my dad was going in and out of my bedroom window and each time he brought out a different piece of a set. It was a large nativity display. The plastic kind with weathered pastel colors, ya know, the kind some folks might call tacky. But when I racked my brain for the earliest memory I could think of, it was that display of lights that I found.
It’s Christmas Eve and whether we’re ready or not, tomorrow is the big day. Maybe it’s the same for some of you but I know for my house this week has felt a little bit like a mad scramble. From meal planning to gift wrapping to trip preparation, the final days (maybe hours) before Christmas can seem like a frantic race to the finish. And with the frenzy that can sometimes take over the holiday, it can become all too easy for us to let the true power of Christmas slip our minds. That’s why I think there’s some treasured value in thinking back to our earliest memories. They might afford us a more pure, uncluttered view of Christmas. Our text for this evening does the same thing – it beckons us to glimpse at the most lasting and precious truth concerning Christmas. We’re in John 1:1-14.
* Read John 1:1-14 *
Alright, so admittedly this is a different Christmas story than we might be used to hearing on a night like this. We’re used to hearing about shepherds and kings and angels. Well, I made sure we heard that story too but tonight I wanted us to look back even further. The nativity reveals to us the birth of a child and a glimpse at the infant face of our Savior. But the Son of God has been present long before He took on our humanity. And this text at the very beginning of the book of John shows us that.
In the beginning was the Word and in Him was life and light. Jesus Christ, the newborn at the center of all our nativity displays, has always been. Jesus wasn’t born into existence as we are. Yes, He was born into humanity but His personhood and his identity have been set before the foundations of the world were fashioned. Genesis tells us the story of Creation and we hear that God spoke all things into being. John here reminds us that the very same person we see in a manger was present and responsible for creation. The Gospel writer emphasizes for us that it is out of the Word that all things came to be, including the truest light. And when John tells us that, he echoes the words of Psalm 36:9 – “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” John Calvin said that in Christ the true light is shining both by itself and from itself and that any other source of brilliance or radiance finds its beginning in the True Light. This child that we adore and sing about and come to the manger to see is the fountain from which all of creation has come. He is the source and brilliance of all light because he is the Truest Light.
Today is a kind of unique day in the church. It’s rare that we have a service on Christmas Eve in the morning. And I think that’s a good thing. There’s something powerfully symbolic in celebrating the birth of Jesus in the dark of night only days after the longest night of the year. Matthew chapter 2 tells us that the magi knew about the birth of Jesus because of an especially brilliant star in the sky that had appeared. This newfound, radiant light served as a beacon in the darkness that the Truest Light had come into the world. The truth and gravity of light piercing darkness is as much a narrative about the coming of Jesus as the manger scene is.
It’s something that I never really noticed until I thought back to that first memory I shared with all of you. My earliest Christmas memory is one of Jesus being a light. Now, sure, the light I saw as a kid was a faded plastic baby Jesus but it still struck me as I read through this passage in John that that memory prepared me to see Christ as the Truest Light. And I don’t think we only need to take the word “truest” to mean the most correct or trustworthy. Another meaning of the word true is lasting or unfailing. Don’t misunderstand me, Jesus Christ is absolutely the Truest Light in terms of the truth. Jesus is capital T truth. But He is also constant, steadfast, and eternal.
If you look at verse 5 we read that “The light shines in the darkness.” Before this verse, we see a lot of past tense word usage. But with this word, with this proclamation of the Light’s identity, we see a continuous action, unwavering and always. One scholar says this: “The light of the Word shone in the primal darkness at creation, and continued amidst the darkness of fallen mankind; it shone with greater brilliance in the glory of the Incarnate One, and it shines on in the era of the Resurrection and beyond.” Through it all, the light has been shining. In the void before anything was made – the light was there. Over and across every sorrow and celebration, every tribulation and miracle in human existence – the light has been there. In the manger, on the cross – the light shines. And in our own lives, the Truest Light shines.
This means that before the world was given shape, the Light was shining. It means that before the first Christmas in Bethlehem, the Light was shining. And it means that through every Christmas we’ve experienced, the Light has been shining. Jesus has been the constant and true guiding light, just as the starlight was over the manger in Bethlehem. When we tore open gifts and shouted for joy or watched our own kids tear into those presents, the person of Christ shares in our joy. When we feel the warmth of family and friends gathered around the table for a Christmas meal, Jesus is there and delights in our affection. And when we have to dwell in the pain and sorrow of the space unoccupied by a loved one no longer with us, Jesus Christ holds us in that space of loss. As the Truest Light, Jesus shines in and through everywhere and every time.
The unbelievable and compelling gift of Christmas is this and echoed in verse 9. That the Truest Light comes into this world and gives light to everyone. Regardless of where we are, what mistakes we’ve made, or who has told us what…the light shines on, over, and in us. No matter what the darkness, the light shines. And we know the name of the light. Verse 14 tells us that the Word, the Light, came and made his dwelling among us.
Verse 14 is the definitive statement that separates simple Christmas cheer from the truth and depth of Christmas. The concept and image of light is a meaningful one but also one that could be interpreted in a number of ways. Some could propose that the light is the generosity and kindness of persons or some other mantra of the holiday season. But we know that the light isn’t a concept or a sentiment – the Truest Light is a person. I really like how Leon Morris describes verse 14. He says, “Notice that this is the first time that John indicates that the Word and Jesus are to be taken as the same. Up to this point, it would have been quite possible for the reader to take “the Word” to refer to some supreme cosmic principle or the like. But in one short, shattering expression John unveils the great idea at the heart of Christianity – that the very Word of God took flesh for our salvation.”
This brings us back full circle to the manger. We often times start in the simplest of scenes. What could be simpler than a stable and a manger? It is a beloved image and one filled with meaning. A child born in starlight. Like I said, it’s a faded plastic display of that scene that is fixed as my first memory of Christmas. But those decorations needed something. They needed light. And that ancient manger scene, the one in Bethlehem…what made it so special wasn’t simply a remarkable birth story. It is the fact that the purest, most powerful light came into this world. The Truest Light took on a face, a story, and a name. All for our sake.
We’ve got what, somewhere around 6 hours until Christmas is officially here? Friends, tonight I hope you leave this place with an image firmly fixed in your minds. An image of light. Jesus is the light of the world. He is the Truest Light. And he shares that light with us. So much so that we become bearers of that light, bringers of that light…in other words, we share that light. In much the same way we share gifts on Christmas morning. In a few moments, we will take part in a moving display of this truth as we share in our candle lighting. A symbolic action declaring both our own possession of the light and our desire to share it with others. Of our call to bring light to darkness, to bring hope to the world.
Let this wonderful element of our time together tonight inspire you. Inspire you to realize that the Truest Light has a name and that He came to this world for us. Let it remind you that this light was given to you so that any darkness in your life might be cast out. And let it fill you with hope knowing that the Truest Light is one that never goes out, that never stops shining, and is meant for all.