The first words of the bible are “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” then follows in very poetic words the account of the work of creation: light and darkness, sun, moon and stars, earth, land and sea, plants, animals, and finally humankind. God’s creation.
The Gospel of John has an opening that sounds similar, “In the beginning…” It is not the creation account that follows, but what was before even that, “In the beginning was the Word.” Then follows another poetic passage about who the Word is and what he does.
But why is it that these verses are heard today? It becomes clear when we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” These words are talking about the child in the manger. They tell who this newborn child really is, a human child, but not only that. His origins go back further and deeper than our own. We are people begotten of men, but Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light” as the Nicene Creed tells us. He is God’s own Son, who has become man, has taken on flesh, our mortal humanity, and has become one of us.
God became man – that is what we say about the Christ Child in the manger. That is what today’s Gospel is talking about. God becoming man and when he did, he brought with him the divine light that shines in the darkness, a light that turns every shadow and dark corner as bright as the noonday sun.
Why? Because He knows that so often we wander around in darkness. A darkness of sin, death, sickness, war, and much more. That we can become lost in a world that is harsh and we don’t understand. We look for answers when we don’t even know the questions. This is why the Word became flesh. Why God became man. So that he might shine his divine light into the darkness of this world and into the darkness of our hearts, so that we might know joy and so that we all might find our way home to Him.
History records for us an interesting footnote. It was during the dark winter of 1864. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee’s generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built.
What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired. No yelling back and forth. No war fought. Only light, celebrating the birth of a child. But it didn’t last forever. Soon the fires burned down and once again the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war.
The good news of Christmas is that in the midst of a great darkness there came a light, and the darkness was not able to overcome the light. It was not just a temporary flicker. It was an eternal flame. We need to remember that. There are times, in the events of the world and in the events of our own personal lives, that we feel that the light of the world will be snuffed out. But the Christmas story affirms that whatever happens, the light still shines.
The theologian Robert Alden wrote, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.” That being true, then the divine light that was born in a manger in Bethlehem is more than adequate to eternally dispel the darkness of this world.