Light is quite an interesting word. It carries dozens of different and distinct meanings and is used hundreds of times in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus described himself as "the Light of the World," which certainly seems most appropriate.
In its Biblical context, light can mean the way of salvation; it brings life, reveals righteousness and wisdom; light guides our way, exposes evil, and prevents us from stumbling; light is omnipresent, embodies truth, and brings understanding to scripture; it provides discipline, reveals hidden things, and brings freedom. Evil hates light, but the light cannot be overcome by darkness.
We are all familiar with the accounts of Jesus' birth that are noted in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Each of these gospels presents a unique look at the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ, and together they provide a broad perspective of an event of such incredible significance that it established the timeline of history. But there is another story of his birth that is not often considered during the celebration of Christmas: the gospel of John.
In each of these gospels, we will find that "light" takes on a profound significance as we explore the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Birth Narrative from the Gospel of Luke
Luke, "the beloved physician" and companion of Paul," was most likely a Greek and the only non-Jewish New Testament writer. It is not unexpected, then, that his gospel is pointed toward a Gentile audience. The apostle goes into rich historic detail about the life and times of Jesus in the context of familiar and well-known persons, places, and events, which would offer a persuasive witness to the non-Jew.
In his birth narrative, Luke explains that Mary (who is with child) and Joseph must travel to Bethlehem to be counted in a census decreed by Emperor Caesar Augustus. Everyone had to go to the city of their lineage for taxation purposes, and as a result of the large influx of people seeking shelter, the inns were full. Since the time was near for Mary to deliver, the couple was forced to take shelter in a stable, "for there was no room for them in the inn." It was in these most humble surroundings that Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus.
Angels appear to shepherds tending their flocks at night, who announce the birth of a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. The angels tell the shepherds where the babe can be found and they hurriedly go "to see this thing which has come to pass." They find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger--a feeding trough. Jesus, then, is first honored, not by kings and noblemen, but by common shepherds, with a livelihood practiced by many of the patriarchs. Jesus would later identify himself as "the Good Shepherd," who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
After eight days, the baby is brought to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord for circumcision. He is named Jesus and according to the law, a sacrifice must be given, but Joseph has not the means to provide a lamb, so he offers two turtle doves.
About that time, a man named Simeon is led by the Holy Spirit to come into the temple. Seeing the baby Jesus, he takes him into his arms and, praising God, says: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The Birth Narrative from the Gospel of Matthew
Matthew, a Jew, was a despised tax collector for the Romans, who was called to discipleship by Jesus with the simple command, "Follow me." He wrote his gospel as a witness to his Jewish brethren and goes into great detail to show the royal lineage of Jesus from Abraham through David and Joseph, the husband of Mary.
He cites many messianic prophesies from the Old Testament concerning the coming of Christ, as well as twenty of the thirty-five miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Coupled with the genealogies, his citation of prophesies and miracles offers a powerful witness to the Jews. The apostle describes the birth narrative from a perspective that is entirely different, yet complementary to the narrative found in Luke.
Magi (or wise men) from the East, who are familiar with Old Testament messianic prophesy, come to Jerusalem seeking the baby who was born King of the Jews. They tell King Herod that they followed the light of his star and came to worship him. Herod, troubled that there might be another claimant to the throne, asks where the Christ should be born.
"In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophets," is the reply.
Herod tells the magi to find the baby and bring word to him so that he could worship the child as well. But Herod secretly plots to have him killed. The magi depart and again the light of the star continues to guide their way until they come to the house where the baby is lying. (Jesus is no longer in the stable, but the family has moved into a house. Two years may have passed by this point.)
Overjoyed, they worship the child and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As they depart, they are warned in a dream by God not to return to Herod, so they go to their country by another route. Herod, furious that he has been outwitted by the magi, orders that every child in Bethlehem two years old and under be killed. But Joseph had been warned by God in a dream to flee to Egypt, where the family remains until Herod dies.
The Birth Narrative...from the Gospel of John?
We don't often look to the gospel of John when we refer to the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, in some ways it is the most profound description of Jesus' incarnation found in Scripture. John, brother of James and a fisherman by trade, penned the most theological of all the gospels. He begins his birth narrative with a most startling statement:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with 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 men...The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The true Light, that gives light to every man was coming into the world...and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:1-14)
In other words, John tell us that the Word, the Creator of all things, was coming into the world and he "became flesh" and lived among them. How did this happen? A young woman, Mary, was overcome by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the babe in the manger--the person of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul summed it up this way:
"He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8)
But he was also before all things and was with God at the creation. As we read in Genesis 1:1, the Word spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. But darkness lay across the deep and there was more work to be done. The Word then said, "Let there be light," and at once a burst of radiant energy ignited and filled the universe with a power beyond the scope of human imagination. God said that the light was good.
The One True Light
The last time the word light is used in scripture is in the final chapter of the Book of Revelation, following the appearance of a new heaven and new earth. It serves as a bookend to the creation story in Genesis:
"And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev 22:5)
Therefore, at the Final Call, the Word will gather into himself all the light energy of the universe and his glory will shine upon the elect forever.
May the One True Light be with you. Merry Christmas.
Allan Dobras is a freelance writer on religious and cultural issues and an electronics engineer. He lives in Springfield, Va.
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