John 1:4-14  Reader:  Setri Dzivenu

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. (John 1:1-4)

We will study those opening verses of the Gospel of John more closely next Sunday, but it needs to be said that there was a reason for John writing them. In fact, John was very purposeful in everything he wrote. In the final verses of chapter 20, so near the end of his Gospel, the apostle John shares that purpose. It wasn’t just to tell the wonderful narrative stories about Jesus, recording miracle after miracle, parable after parable. John let Matthew, Mark, and Luke do that. Instead, John’s Gospel is different in that he wrote about a comparatively few miracles and he didn’t mention any of Jesus’ parables concerning the kingdom of God. Whereas the other three Gospels have Jesus going from place to place, John’s Gospel action happens at a much slower pace. His Gospel is much more introspective in that he writes like an onlooker of an event who stayed behind after the action was over and discussed with those there what had just happened. For example, after the miracles of the loaves and fishes and then Jesus walking on water, the three other Gospel writers immediately move on to the next events in Jesus’ life without any sort of theological discourse on the significance of what just happened, but John doesn’t do that. Instead, he writes about what happened, why those miracles occurred, and what their deep meaning was. He wrote theologically, with purpose. Near the end of his book, after Jesus’ resurrection, John pointed out:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30,31)

That was John’s purpose for writing. Now, concerning Christmas and the birth of Jesus, in his Gospel John gives the reasons for Christmas, not a narrative of the events of Jesus’ birth. Why did Jesus come? Last week I stated that the first reason Jesus came to earth that initial Christmas was to bring salvation to humans. So, Jesus came to save, which means access to God in this world and in the life to come. Today we will identify a second reason for Jesus coming: to bring light into this darkened world. Every year at Christmas, we read that wonderful prophecy given by the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before Jesus’ birth. The historic setting behind that prophecy in Isaiah 9 was that north of Galilee, the regions Zebulun and Naphtali had recently been defeated, in fact crushed, by the Assyrians. Most of the residents were taken away into exile, to never be heard from again but those residents left behind in Zebulun and Naphtali stumbled about in gloom, distress, and darkness. So, God, through Isaiah, revealed that He would be sending the Messiah who would bring light to our darkened world, driving away gloom and distress. The Messiah would appear first in Galilee but then his light and kingdom would go everywhere.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…For to us a child is born to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Is. 9:1-2,6-7)

Living in darkness is not easy. I worked graveyard and late evening shifts at Air Canada for too many years, and I can say that, while my eyes kind of adjusted to the darkness, I came to understand that danger lurks in the dark. You can’t see as well, you’re not able to spot dangerous black ice on the ground, you are unaware until it is too late of things sticking out in the shadows. Darkness is not safe or comforting and the people of Zebulun and Naphtali were living in darkness during the time when Isaiah was prophesying. They had been defeated and were longing for hope and peace. In response, God would be sending His “Great Light” to bring hope, peace, and light to them. As it would turn out, Jesus would be that prophesied “Great Light”. That is why we read Isaiah’s prophecy about his coming every Christmas. For 700 years the people had waited before a man named Zechariah was told that the prophecy was about to be fulfilled.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:5-7)

Right after those verses, we read that God revealed to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would get pregnant. Then, when Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, her cousin Mary came to visit. Having just been impregnated by the Holy Spirit, Mary was no doubt fearful about what her townspeople might think, say, or do, once they discovered that she, an unmarried teenager, was pregnant. We read,

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:39-44)

Both Elizabeth and the baby inside her – John the Baptist, as he turned out to be – recognized that the baby inside Mary was the Messiah. Those boys, John the Baptist and Jesus, might be cousins but from the earliest moment, John the Baptist honoured Jesus. Father Zechariah, upon meeting Mary, was also given that insight about Mary’s baby, and so he gave a prophecy about Mary’s son, one based upon Isaiah’s much-anticipated prophecy concerning the Great Light’s coming:

“The rising sun will come to us from heaven. To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

Old Zechariah got it! It seems probable that from his days of going to the Temple, Zechariah knew or knew of another elderly man who hung out at the Temple, Simeon. We read about Simeon after Jesus’ birth.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “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.” (Luke 2:25-32)

The Great Light, the Messiah, had come! His name was Jesus, and those two elderly men, Zechariah and Simeon, both had God reveal that truth to them. Today, we lit the Second Advent Candle, the Candle of Peace. I love that both Zechariah and Simeon would have lived their last days and years with peace in their hearts, knowing that God had sent his “Great Light” into the world. Now, in the Christmas narrative stories in Luke and Matthew, we can see that dazzling lights played a role in Jesus’ birth story. For example, when Jesus was born, there were shepherds in the fields above Bethlehem, looking after their flocks. It was dark out, nighttime, but, a light was about to break it.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

The angel displayed the glory of the Lord, the light of the “Shekinah” glory of God, as Jewish people called it. That same night, a long way away, probably in Persia (today’s Iraq) some astronomers or “Magi” as they were called in the Persian courts, were studying the night sky. About such Magi, we read that in the 6th century B.C., the Old Testament man of faith Daniel lived in Persia (then called Babylon).

King Nebuchadnezzar appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. (Daniel 5:11b,12)

Daniel, as the Chief of the Magi, would not have participated in magic, enchanting, astrology, divining, or any such activity but he did know that God speaks and reveals so, it is likely that as he watched the Babylonian Magi studying the night skies, he shared with them the writings of the Old Testament, advising them to watch for anything unusual in the night skies for it could be a revelation or sign from God that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, had been born. Five and a half centuries later, when Magi saw a bright star which they had never seen before glowing in the southern sky, they wondered if that bright light was a sign from God that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, had been born. They set they set out to find him by following that bright light and they did, in Bethlehem. So, dazzling lights played a major role in the narratives of the Christmas story. But, as you know, we are during this Advent season studying the theology of the apostle John’s Gospel book as to the second reason Jesus came to our world: to bring light into the darkness. So, here is what John wrote about Jesus:

In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4,5)

Darkness simply cannot overcome light. Jesus’ life has proven that. Tying together the lives of the two cousins, John the Baptist and Jesus, the apostle John focuses next on John the Baptist:

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. (John 1:6-8)

Then, returning to Jesus, the apostle John wrote:

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. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

Jesus was the Great Light who broke into the darkness that first Christmas. Thirty-or-so years after his Christmas birth, in the second year of his ministry, Jesus left Galilee to go to Jerusalem, to the Feast of Tabernacles. It was there that he revealed that he was that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. His announcement was dramatic:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In order for us to understand the magnitude of this pronouncement, we need to know that it took place at the Feast of Tabernacles. Why was dramatic? Well, the pilgrims lived in darkness for one week, living in tents they had brought. They were allowed into the Temple area only if they were carrying a lit torch with them. Plus, every afternoon during the seven-day feast, priests and pilgrims would gather in the Temple area known as “The Court of the Women”. As women watched from the upper terraces, men would dance with those burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises to God all night long but they would dance before four huge lit oil lamps which illuminated the court. In fact, the light from those four oil lamps was so bright it is said it penetrated every courtyard in Jerusalem. Why those torches and four huge oil lamps was significant was that they symbolized two realities.

The first was the reality of the “Light of all Lights”— the Shekinah Glory—the visible presence of God that filled the first Temple that King Solomon had built.

The second was to celebrate the anticipated coming of the Ha’or Gadol (the “Great Light”), the Messiah, prophesied about in Isaiah 9.

So, in the midst of that celebrating the Shekinah Glory and the coming “Great Light” prophesied by Isaiah, Jesus stood up and shouted, “That’s me you are celebrating. I am the light of the world”! Can you imagine the stir that caused? Before we look into that stir, 4 truths:

  1. Light Attracts Attention.

Our eyes are immediately drawn to light. When you enter a dark room and there is a single light source shining, a lamp or candle, your eye is immediately drawn to it. It will be the first thing you see. When Jesus announced, “I am the light of the world”, he attracted attention, alright. The responses to him were three-fold: Some religious people rejected Him, others inquired for more information, and still others believed and received him. How would you respond? Jesus pressed in:

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9:5)

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

  1. Light Exposes Reality.

Most crimes are done at night under the cover of darkness. Criminals don’t want to be seen or recognized. Hey, do you know why fancy restaurants are intentionally dimmed at night? It is so the people on a date can’t really see one another. The darkness caused by the dim lighting hides people’s wrinkles, warts, bags under the eyes, all the imperfections. But light exposes reality. We can choose Jesus and live in his light, or we can choose the world and live eternally in darkness.

     3. Light Guides Our Steps.

Just as a lighthouse guides ships through dangerous waters, so does the light of Jesus guide us through the darkness of this world. Of His time left on earth before he was crucified, he told his disciples,

“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35,36)

We can become “children of light”; thus the fourth truth about light:

  1. Jesus has passed on his light to us. He says to his followers:

“You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14a, 16)

In a mountain village in Europe centuries ago, a nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He decided to build them a church building, but he wouldn’t let anyone see the church building until it was finished. When the people gathered, they marveled at its beauty. Then someone asked, “But where are the lamps? How will it be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets on the walls. Then he gave to each family a lamp which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship and then hang on the brackets. “Each time you are here the area where you are seated will be lighted,” the nobleman said. “Each time you are not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to worship, some part of God’s house will be dark.” Friends, we have been and still are living through one of the strangest and darkest times in recent history. Those traditionally counted on to offer guidance or a steady hand are struggling to do so and thus it is up to others to let some light in. As Christians, we can shine the light of Christ through us to the dark places. As the representatives of Jesus, the Messiah, the “Great Light”, he has commissioned us to also shine. Here is a 2021 poem by an Elicia Roy, entitled, “LIGHT IN THE DARK”.

We have been jolted, tested and tried. Our times have been dark, with some comforts denied. Things that we clung to, and thought our security, Were ripped from our hold, caused feelings of unsurety. “What will tomorrow bring?” “Is there hope for this dark time?” “Is there any more strength for this mountain that we climb?” The sufferings we face, in seasons nocturnal, Have a purpose for us, for reasons eternal. Though we cannot see well, for our path is unclear, There is a way forward, where we can walk without fear. The LORD our God, He is our light. He will show us the Way, on the path through the night. Our feet will not slip, when His lamp lights our way. The path just gets clearer, as we move toward the Day. The true love that He gave, that made our hearts bright, His Word given to us, so that we can see His light. There is hope in the midst, of the pain that we face. As we put our trust in His love, He’ll take us to a better place. This is the Way to walk, obeying what He said, Keeping our eyes on Jesus, and walking bravely ahead.

In closing, let me tell you how the evil, repressive communist government of Romania led by President Nicolae Ceausescu was taken down in 1989. Laszlo Tokes, pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church in the city of Timisoara, had become too influential in the eyes of the Romanian government. Laszlo Tokes preached the gospel boldly. From 1987-1989, his small church had grown to 5,000 people. Horrified, the government authorities confiscated the pastor’s rations book so he couldn’t buy fuel, or bread, or food. Then, the government decided to exile Tokes and his wife Edith. When the police arrived at their church they were stopped by an unmovable crowd of people. Members of their church and other churches stood shoulder to shoulder in protest.

Project two photos of crowds of protestors in Romania.

All day, the police tried to disperse the crowd, but they wouldn’t budge. Just after midnight a nineteen-year-old Baptist student named Daniel Garva, pulled out a packet of candles. He lit one and passed it to his neighbor. One by one the burning candles were passed through the crowd. The crowd stayed all through that night and the next. Two days later, the police finally broke through and knocked in the church door. They bloodied Pastor Tokes’ face, then paraded both him and his wife Edith through the crowd. An outcry from the people led them to their city square of Timisoara, where they began a full-scale demonstration against the Communist government. Once again, Daniel Garva passed out his candles. Troops were brought in and ordered to shoot the crowd. Daniel Gavra and a number of other believers had marched into the square carrying the new flag of the revolution: Romania’s tricolor with its Communist emblem scissored out of the middle. As they marched, Gavra linked arms with a young Pentecostal girl. The soldiers opened fire, and the girl slipped from his arm. She was dead by the time she hit the pavement. Daniel barely had time to comprehend what had happened when there was another explosion and he fell, his left leg blown away by a barrage of bullets. In the confusion of the crowd and the darkness, the savage gunfire claimed hundreds of victims, but the people stood strong. Though shocked at the cost of their stand, they know there was no middle ground. They had decided to stand for truth against lies and stand for truth, their lit candles held high. On December 21st, 1989, the world reeled with the results of that stand: Romania was free and the evil Nicolae Ceausescu had fled and his government deposed. The people of Romania rejoiced. Churches filled with worshipers praising God. A few days after Christmas, his pastor opened the door of the hospital ward where Daniel Gavra had been taken after he was shot. The boy was still recuperating, his wounds bandaged and a stump where his left leg had been. But Daniel’s spirit had not been shattered. “Pastor,” he said, “I don’t mind so much the loss of my leg. After all, it was I who lit the first candle.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” If you are in darkness now, cling to the light. But, then shine for Jesus! Amen.

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