Following the String of Lights Through Scripture
Do you struggle to find your Christmas spirit in December?
Between the shopping, wrapping, decking the halls and endless food prep, the holidays can be exhausting. And sometimes our expectations of Christmas cheer and merriment are dashed by cranky kids, bad weather, or burnt turkey.
But the real spirit of Christmas is not found in any of these trappings. The real spirit of Christmas is in the anticipation of the arrival of Christ, the Light of the world.
Advent is a time of waiting in expectation. We celebrate Christ's first advent at Christmas while we are eagerly awaiting His second advent, which could be any day now. We lift our eyes and look to the heavens until the sky splits open and Christ comes to usher in His glorious kingdom - where He will be our Light forevermore.
The theme of light is threaded throughout Scripture, and leads to the Light of the world wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger on a dark Bethlehem night. The Bible is one story from beginning to end.
Light in the Beginning
We see light in the opening verses of the Bible. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good" (Genesis 1:1-4).
The very first thing God created was light. Out of the dark chaos of nothingness, the voice of God thundered, “Let there be light,” and there was. It is interesting to note that there was light before the sun was created. Obviously, God is the source of light, not the sun we see in our sky.
God separated the light from the darkness on that first day of creation and He’s been doing the same ever since. Light and darkness were created as a physical picture of a spiritual reality. Both light and darkness co-exist in our world – light represents goodness, purity and truth, and darkness represents evil and sin. God needed a visual representation of a spiritual reality, so He created light and separated it from the darkness.
Of course it didn’t take long for humanity to plunge the world into darkness. Adam and Eve chose to step out from under God’s rule and blessing and make their own way. But their rebellion plunged the world under the darkness of the curse, and humanity has been wrestling with darkness ever since. We see it in the world around us and we recognize it in our own hearts – this wrestling with darkness.
Light for the Nation of Israel
As we continue to trace the theme of light through Scripture, we come to the ten plagues on Egypt as God was redeeming His people from slavery. The ninth plague was darkness in the land for three days. Of course there were not street lamps or flashlights on smartphones, so the darkness was thick and oppressive for the Egyptians. However, Exodus 10:23 tells us that the people of Israel, God’s people, had light where they lived.
Then as God led His people out into the wilderness, He guided them by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire to give them light at night. He instructed Moses to build a lampstand as one of the pieces of furniture in the tabernacle and it was to burn continually, symbolizing the presence of God.
Light in the Psalms
The psalms speak often of light. Psalm 18:28 says, "The Lord lightens my darkness." Psalm 27:1 says, "The Lord is my light and salvation." In Psalm 36:9 the psalmist says, "In your light, we see light," and in Psalm 43:3 he asks God to "send out your light and your truth and let them lead me to your holy hill." Psalm 97:11 says, "Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart." Psalm 112:4 says something similar: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright." Speaking of the Bible, Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:130 says, "The unfolding of your word gives light."
Light at Christmas
How is light present in the Christmas story? It begins in Isaiah 9. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil" (Isaiah 9:2-3).
Who is this great light? It's none other than the Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth.
Notice that the ministry of the Messiah would bring joy and gladness to the people of Israel. Like the joy of harvest time, like a celebration of a victory. This kind of joy is ours in Jesus, and this is the joy we experience at Christmas.
Then the 400 years of silence and darkness between the Old and New Testaments and darkness were broken with a baby's cry. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, said: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple as a newborn, Simeon, who we will talk about more in our third advent podcast episode said this: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Simeon recognized the baby of a young Jewish couple as the light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of the Israelites.
John's gospel omits the birth narrative, but goes all the way back before the beginning to tell of the Light of the world. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:1-7). Later in John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
And then these words: "And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Matthew connected Isaiah’s prophecy with the birth of Jesus. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in this area, around the sea of Galilee in Northern Israel. So Isaiah, hundreds of years earlier, prophesied a great light that was coming, and Jesus declared that He is the Light of the World. It's so beautiful.
The Light We Need
In a dark world, we crave the light. We all go through dark times – difficult seasons in which the darkness is heavy and smothering and seems inescapable. But we can know that whatever darkness comes our way, is no threat to His light.
We are the Light of the World
And then wonder upon wonders, as followers of Jesus, you and I are called to be lights. His light in us shining before people, so they will see the glory and beauty of Christ. Second Corinthians 4:6-7 says, "For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." What makes a container valuable is what is in it. You and I are just ordinary clay pots, but we have a treasure that’s worth far more than anything on this earth. We have the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves, redeems and restores.
We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, and we are now children of the light. So we are invited to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).
Light at the End
Now listen to how the story ends: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there" (Revelation 21).
"They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 22:4-5).
The God who said, "Let there be light," way back in the beginning; the God who dwells in unapproachable light, will be our Light for all eternity. What a glorious ending!
Friend, I don’t know what darkness you are walking through in this season, and I can’t promise you that your circumstances will turn out how you hope, but I do know this: Light is coming! A Great Light that has no end. All darkness will flee in the light of His presence. Lift your eyes to the heavens and believe.