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The light shineth in the darkness


THE set Gospel reading for Christmas Day in the Book of Common Prayer makes clear that the conflict between good and evil is intrinsic to the Christmas message. 

Today’s reading from the first chapter of John’s Gospel, verses 1 to 14, does not name Jesus Christ, God’s anointed King or Messiah as promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. It describes the eternal Son of God the Father as ‘the Word’:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not’ (John 1v1-5 – King James Version).

In verse 14, the Apostle John, a witness of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, affirmed: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we [John and his fellow apostolic witnesses] beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.’

It is in verse 17, after our set reading, that the name of Jesus Christ first appears in John’s Gospel: ‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’

John described God the Son as ‘the Word’ because he believed that the divine Being, whom the authors of the Catholic Creeds identified as the Second Person of the Trinity, was the full and final revelation of the one true God in human form.

John described the Word of God, who became incarnate in Jesus Christ, as the light shining in the darkness. The darkness ‘comprehended it not’ (v5). Despite its best effort, the darkness has not been able to apprehend or grasp the light. The 20th century Revised Standard Version translates the original Greek verb as ‘overcome’. In John’s mind, the light and the darkness are in conflict.

What did John mean by the darkness? His eye-witness account of Jesus Christ in his Gospel makes clear that he meant the darkness of evil. John, steeped as he was in the Jewish Old Testament, believed that evil was rampant in the world because mankind had chosen to rebel against the good and loving God who made them, male and female, in his image.

John was convinced that the darkness of evil, despite its power in the world, was not able to hinder God’s self-revelation in his eternal Son, Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh and the powers of evil were unable to stop him. Even when they succeeded in murdering the Son of God, nailing his flesh to a Roman cross, God defeated them by raising his Son from the dead.

The conflict between good and evil at the heart of the Christmas message teaches Christian people to test by the eternal Word of God all forms of moral and social consensus taking shape among sinful humanity. How much spiritual, moral, social and economic damage has been done to this country by the largely unchallenged political consensus for the Covid lockdown? 

Had there been a vigorous Christian democratic opposition in Parliament to the 2020 lockdowns, the first of which banned church services altogether over Easter, the second masked worshippers and prevented them from singing Christmas carols in their churches, would the darkness have prevailed as easily as it did? 

According to John, the light shining in the darkness results in some people, from a world of humanity that by nature chooses to live in rebellion against God, becoming believers in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John wrote in verses 12 and 13: ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his Name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’

All true Christian believers are thus born again. They are ‘regenerate’, to use the language of the Prayer Book. They have undergone a spiritual new birth, God having turned them from the darkness of evil to the light of Christ.

The Collect for Christmas Day is full of Gospel truth:

‘Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin: Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end.’

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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