John 1:1–8 (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.
As the gospel author sets out to describe the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, before he tells the story, before he describes the miraculous happenings of healing, walking on water, and stones rolled away, before the testament of Jesus’s life, John begins with creating a foundation for who Jesus will be. It’s like he gives the story away before the story begins. He announces the Messiah before we’ve met him. Like the preview to an epic movie, or the prologue to an incredible book, we get the privilege of orienting ourselves to the one we’re about to discover. And as the gospel writer lays out these beginning, orienting pieces, he makes sure to include an honorable mention. Right in the middle of defining and describing the light of Christ, the hope of the world, and the long-awaited Messiah, he redirects to John.
A man sent by God. A witness sent to testify to the light so that all might believe.
He was not the light himself but a testament to it.
In the middle of this divine introduction, we’re intentionally directed to a secondary player in the story. But one that’s essential enough to gain a spot in the opening credits. Even as the Gospel of John aims to introduce us to the light that can change everything for us, he makes sure to recognize the significance of another’s contribution, a partner in the mission to bring light to the whole world. In these verses, and those following John’s opening thoughts, we hear how a witness to the light is a critical component for reflecting the light in the world. Jesus is the light. But another bears witness to the light. Light reflects, remember? And what first is a reflection of life and love from the very heart of God, out into the world, is then reflected and refracted by those who center themselves in the light.
You’ve seen it work.
Someone captures a stream of light in their glasses, and the light bounces in other directions, pushing light where it wasn’t before. Your watch catches the sun while sitting out on the restaurant’s patio for lunch, and prisms of light scatter on the faces of the people around you, sometimes stretching to places outside of your circle. Or, like the mirrors in a childhood funhouse, the reflection from where you stand reproduces in other unexpected places.
As the light of Christmas breaks in, in us, pushing back the darkness and illuminating our lives with the “everything” of God, its natural tendency will be outbound—this time, not from God to us, but from God through us. A critical component to the light of Christ bursting forth in us is so standing in the beam of Christ’s life and love that it naturally, easily, reflects through us to others, scattering the light of Christ beyond us into spaces and places otherwise unreached. Like with the witness John, someone’s introduction to the light of Christ will often come through the reflection, not the source.
Though I’ve always seemed to have an awareness of God and his love (hello, prevenient grace), I was introduced to the light and love of God through other people. I’m so fortunate that my parents intentionally pointed my siblings and me to the light of Christ. They talked about him, oriented our lives around worship, read the devotions, taught me the songs, and let me witness the love of Christ in them. As my parents invited me into a life in Christ, other people became witnesses to the light too. For a handful of very formative years, Mrs. Deanna Pribble, the Sunday school teacher in my dad’s little church, who fascinated me with her long eyelashes, perfectly teased hair, and colorful laughter, pointed me to Jesus in loving ways in that basement Sunday school room. I still have a devotional book for pre-teen girls she gave me on our last Sunday there (before my father was appointed to a new church). It was inscribed with her beautiful cursive handwriting, describing the hopes she had for my life in Christ. And she would wrap her arms around me as I surrendered my life to Christ at the church’s polished altar rail a short season before. She, like so many others, reflected the love of Christ at work in them in such a way that it illuminated the light of Christ in me, allowing his light to spark to life because she allowed Christ to shine through her.
Though the light and love of Christ can reach into any darkness, many people find their way to the light because another person is pointing the way; another person is a living example of the light, like a flight attendant pointing to the exits, showing the way. Or, even better, a soul that so sparkles with the light of Christ that you can’t help but follow. When light breaks in, in us, we become reflectors of the light, sometimes more intentionally than others, but our lives become witnesses to the source of our hope and salvation in such a way that they point others to the source of salvation too. One way the light of Christ dispels the darkness that pursues us is to leave no room for darkness because we’re too busy radiating the light. This Advent, draw so very close to the source of the light, Christ himself, that it shines into the darkness for others.
Jesus Messiah, hope for the world, we declare with gladness our gratitude for your light. We join with a chorus of saints, brothers, and sisters that know precisely who holds our hope and boldly declare that hope into the world. We don’t know why you would choose to make room for us in your story of salvation, but we’re humbled that you have. Thank you for inviting us in and giving us purpose as light-bearers in the world. We pray and believe that you can take our life of human frailty, imperfection, and struggle to make something useful of it. We trust our lives as witnesses to your glory, power, and goodness. Break forth in us so that your life in us scatters light all around. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Have you ever considered those who first reflected the light of Christ to you? Did you discover God’s love for you out of his own wooing or because someone else illuminated the way? Have you ever looked back to consider if your life has pointed someone else to the light? If you can name some who have been influenced by your faith, take a moment to offer prayer, encouragement, or support to them in some way—as a continued witness, mentor, or elder now. If no one comes to mind, how might you intentionally place yourself in relationships, ministries, or opportunities to reflect Christ’s light to those who haven’t heard? Because there’s no such thing as simply absorbing Christ’s light—find a way to reflect it.
For the Awakening,