In our modern world, darkness is weak and temporary. Anywhere we go, we simply flip a switch and there is light. We can travel anywhere at any time of the night by simply switching on our headlights and lighting our path. We have streetlights to keep our parking lots and streets lit all night. We have flashlights so small they fit on our key rings. We even have apps to turn our smart phones into flashlights. And my personal favorite: we have the clapper for those situations where we can’t muster the strength to travel the three steps between the couch and the light switch. (Apparently you can get a remote control for your clapper as well. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Maybe it makes the clapping sound for you so you don’t have to overexert yourself…)
But think back to the very beginning. The first words that God spoke in creation were “Let there be light!” Immediately before this, the world was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the earth. Then God spoke a word, and light flooded the earth, scattering the darkness. It’s an impressive picture.
John picks up on this imagery as he begins his gospel. Other gospels (Matthew and Luke) begin with genealogies and Christmas stories, but John begins his gospel where Genesis begins: “in the beginning.” And John echoes the Genesis account of light appearing amidst darkness:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9)
In Genesis, God speaks a word and the darkness scatters. In John, God speaks a Son, whom John calls “the Word,” and the darkness scatters. John’s presentation of Jesus as the light of the world is striking. It’s profound. Just as our world began with a flash of light that dispelled the darkness, so the gospel begins with Jesus as the light which overcomes all of the darkness of the world.
This imagery of the light entering the darkness and refusing to be overcome sets the tone for John’s gospel. In essence, this prologue to the gospel tells the story in miniature. It’s a cosmic version of the tale John is about to tell. All of the stories, sermons, and conversations that John will record for us will come together to say this same thing: Jesus is the light that entered the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome the light. Just the opposite. This light came into the world and gave light to everyone.
In the next post, I’ll look at Jesus stunning statement that picks up on this same theme: “I am the light of the world!”