John 1:1–13 (NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
People have fascinating habits, practices unique to them put in place simply because of their preferences, like my Starbucks order—a grande vanilla iced coffee, no classic, no cream, with a ridiculous amount of ice. I may change it from time to time, but that’s the constant in my coffee life. I come by it honestly. As a kid, I remember my father ordering his McDonald’s cheeseburger with extra pickles, extra onions, mustard, and half a slice of cheese. Please don’t ask me why. Some people, one of them being my husband, listen to a musical score before they see it on stage (way to ruin Hamilton, Babe). Others want to be surprised. He also reads the end of the book before the beginning; there are no words for that.
Even the author of John seems to have a thing. Apparently, he’s the type that enjoys throwing a spoiler right in the middle of a book’s introduction. He must be a read-the-end-of-the-book-before-the-beginning kind of guy. (And it certainly makes me wonder how he would take his coffee). The first several beautiful verses of this gospel paint a picture of who this Jesus is, what he was coming to do, and what it would mean for us. They inspire us with the promise of the light and hope of the world. The text reminds us that even in the darkness, the light of Christ breaks in.
Just as the hopeful words of this introduction point us to the reality that Christ the King had come into the world, we are simultaneously reminded of deep darkness. Though the light shall not be overcome by darkness, there are certainly still great places of darkness. And one of those places is the pointed and painful truth that many don’t recognize the light for what it is. Though later in the gospel, there would be no denying that many missed Jesus for who he was, the light and hope of the world, the gospel writer spoils that coming reality at the very start. Jesus, the light of the world, entered in—and so many miss it. The passage says, “the world didn’t recognize him,” and “his own did not receive him.”
Sometimes, we don’t see the light.
The light can be right in front of our face, and we can’t see it. Not because it isn’t there but because we’ve closed our eyes to it. We’re so deeply stuck in a moment of darkness we can’t see the possibility of light. Or we’re so resistant and in denial of it that we push the light away. It’s heartbreaking to consider that some have missed the light of Christ when they could have found the hope and transformation that life in Christ brings. But instead, for whatever reason, they get stuck in the dark. We get stuck in the darkness and miss the light for so many reasons. I certainly can’t name an exhaustive list of those reasons, many of which may not be known until all things are revealed in Christ. But we have them. We deny the light because we can’t rationally understand it; it doesn’t make sense or add up in our way of thinking. We dismiss the light because it doesn’t fit our expectations or plans. Sometimes we miss the light because we choose our preferences, our particular way of doing things or seeing the world, that the light can’t fit in our preconceived structures, and we choose our thinking (or desire to control the situation) over God’s revelation. We miss the light, mostly because we’re distracted by darkness and doubt.
We don’t think it could possibly be the light, so we ignore it.
We get so overwhelmed by our anger, grief, frustration, and despair that we can’t see where the light has entered in. Some people do it with the very concept of Jesus altogether, pushing him away with uncertainty and disbelief. Others ignore the light in front of them in the everyday moments when God is working to break in and miss a moment with Jesus. We shake our fists at God because he didn’t meet an expectation or answer a prayer missing where God’s grace has broken through in the process.
The reality is that God’s light is breaking in at every turn. But we have to have eyes to see it. The events around my father’s unexpected death five years ago, late in the evening, often leave me reflecting on how easy it is to miss the light of Christ with us. Dad died next to me on the couch while visiting from out of town one autumn evening. It was traumatic and overwhelming, and I certainly have moments of anger and profound sadness that he’s gone. But, even in the pain and darkness of that night, I have gained the perspective to look around and see where God’s light was breaking in, as our young son slept through the entire event, or that my mother wasn’t home alone with him instead, or that his heart didn’t give way as he drove the family around town earlier in our afternoon of errands, potentially sparing us from much worse.
As we learned of our daughter’s sudden death last summer and faced her stillbirth, even in that darkness, God entered in with dear friends who would drop everything to care for our son and later our daughter’s body and burial. God’s grace infiltrated the darkness even in the timing of her death, coming after we had physically unloaded boxes into our new parsonage and not while packing and saying good-bye in a time of transition. And I’m not humble bragging here. I’m grateful that years of learning to shift my perspective and look for the light helped me search the horizon for where God would enter in, instead of looking only into the shadows of despair, anger, doubt, and pain. The reality is, if our preference is to linger in the shadows, put feelers out for doubt, question what seems unreasonable to us, or aim to control how God enters in, then we will likely miss the redeeming power of light breaking in.
During the season of Advent, we intentionally linger in the dark. We get comfortable in the tension that darkness exists and the reality that we live in its effects every day. But, we also squint our eyes toward the horizon to believe that the light of Christ is already breaking in, even as we long together for the fullness of its revelation. The fullness of that light is promised for us at the end of our passage. Even when some struggle to see, Christ’s light still breaks in. The reality of Christ’s light isn’t dependent on our ability to see it. But our ability to receive the promise of it is. And what a beautiful promise it is. That Christ makes room for you to belong with him like a loving parent sweeps a child up into their care. This Advent season, allow the light of Christ to break through in you as you shift your gaze from the shadows to the light and choose to see where he already is. You don’t want to miss it.
Holy God, we are so deeply sorry for the ways we turn our gaze away from you, ignoring how you continually press in to rescue and redeem us. We’ve focused on our preferences and particularities, gazing into the shadows of fear, doubt, and control instead of looking to your light. Forgive us; we pray. And awaken us to the holy places where your light is skimming the horizon and breaking in. Give us eyes to see, eagerness to search, and confident optimism that you’re already there. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Whew y’all. These are tough questions but essential reflections for our awakening. So consider these today. Do you have a tendency to focus on the light or the shadows? Are there preferences or perspectives that blind you to Christ’s light? Places where you’ve grown stubborn, doubting, or resistant to the light? Are there places where you need to take something you’ve left in the shadows, believing that God wasn’t there, and pull it into the light to see Christ is reflecting his loving presence? Take a moment today to check your gaze.
Take a listen to this song of prelude that lingers in Advent, called “The King is Coming” by Christy Nockels, from the album The Thrill of Hope. You’ll be blessed by it, and it just may help you see a glimmer of hope this Advent. (Found anywhere you download your music.)
For the Awakening,