Jesus Is The Light For People
Christmas is a time of poetry. In the hymn we just finished we sang these words:
You came to us in darkest night
To make us children of the light;
Like angels in the realms divine
Around your throne we, too will shine.1
Look at the imagery and poetry there in those words. It’s beautiful and captivating. But there is a danger in poetry. The danger in poetry is that we get swept away in its beauty and miss the point of the poetry. That is the danger we face as we, on this holy day, walk through the opening words of John’s gospel. In his opening words we read: “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:1–4 NIV)
Notice what John says: Jesus is the light. But what does that mean? These words remind me of greek class so many years ago at MLC. We went from translating Xenophon—pretty tough greek to John’s gospel. In one day we translated the first two chapters as homework. We thought we were greek language giants. But then what happened? The professor asked us, “So, what does John mean?” And then we realized that there’s more to translation than bringing the words over into english.
Boldly and clearly John here says that Jesus is the light. And from the opening words we see that here he is not speaking about literal light. For he mentions that there is this word that is God and is also face to face with God. This word created all things. And this word is also the light. In other words, this light is God himself.
And what is it that this light does? This light is the light for people. Jesus is the one who brings hope, meaning, courage and hope to your life. As you look at your life, there are so many questions that are answered in the fact that so long ago this light was born. If you ask ‘where is my place in this world,’ the answer is found there in that manger. If we feel lost, in that manger, we are found. If we ask that ancient question, ‘why did God allow sin to come into the world at all,’ there in that manger we find the answer. Instead of answering our question directly, he gives us the solution to sin: a light for people, to take away their sins. We ask, ‘why do I face pain, death and then after that judgment,’ and the answer is there in that manger. Jesus is light for people. As we face all these hardships and tragedies we know that the Light of the world is for us and with us. It is only when we begin to understand who it is that is there in that manger that this world begins to make sense. For Jesus is the light for people.
So Jesus is the light for people. But what follows is a massive irony. We read: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:5 NIV) Here again John draws us into his beautiful poetry. The light shines out into the darkness. But then what happens? The darkness doesn’t grasp him.2 The unbelieving world doesn’t understand Jesus in their heads and appreciate him in their hearts. And there’s the irony. There could be no greater, brighter light than that baby born in Bethlehem so long ago. And the unbelieving world was unable to get and grasp that light.
And again, we ask the same question that my greek professor asked us: what does that mean? What this means is that what you have, the unbelieving world does not. You have answers to all those questions: ‘where’s my place in the world; why did God allow sin; why do I face pain, death and judgment?’ Your answer is found there in that light shining out from that manger. What does the unbelieving world have? They have darkness. They have no answers to those questions that crush their consciences every day. And in that context the next verses begin to make sense. We read: “6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:6–9 NIV)
If we hadn’t read the words that came before these and asked the question, ‘what does this mean,’ then these next words come out of nowhere. We were talking about Jesus. But now, suddenly we start talking about John the Baptizer. It’s like John the evangelist has ADD and can’t stay on target. But just the opposite is true. There is a clear line of logic from Jesus the light for people to John the Baptizer: Jesus sent John. Why? Jesus sent John so that through him everyone would believe. There are two points to ponder here. First, Jesus wants every person to be in heaven. Or, to keep the poetry intact, Jesus wants everyone to be in the light where he is. There are churches out there that really don’t believe this. They teach that God really didn’t want all people to be in heaven so Jesus was only born for some. No, Jesus really, truly wants every person to believe in him. That’s the first point to ponder. The second is that the only way you make the darkness light is through preaching. The only way to make unbelievers believers is by sharing, preaching and teaching God’s word. And to emphasize this point John explains that fact in the words which follow: “10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10–14 NIV)
How does a person dwelling in darkness become a child of the light? John here deals with some false conclusions. The first is bloodlines. There is this strange idea that we don’t need to believe in Jesus. Instead, all we need is to come from a family that goes to church. That is wrong. The second false conclusion is our own effort and desire can make us children of the light. And there are many churches that follow this bad path. They say that if you want Jesus enough you can decide to make him your Savior. But look at what John says here: ‘not through human desire.’ Instead, we are born of God. In other words, God is the one who gives us birth into his light. God is the one who makes us his children. And the way he does this is through the word. His word is what creates faith in our hearts.
So my dear friends in Christ, today don’t get lost in the poetry. Know what the poetry points to: Jesus is the light for people. Jesus wants every person to believe in him, so he was born and died for every person. And to get that work of creating faith in people, he sends out preachers to share his word. And we conclude this morning with a mystery that is only solved in Jesus. Some believe in Jesus and some don’t. What this means for us is that there will be some people out there who really, really don’t want to be in the light. But that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is the light. He wants everyone to believe in him. And he wants us to stay in the light. So we, as children of the light reach out and stretch out with God’s word and share it. And we, so that we will stay in the light, read it.
Jesus is the light for people. He wants every person to be in the light. And so he sends out men to preach that word into the darkness. That is the point of all this beautiful poetry. Amen.
1 CW 33:4
2 “ⲕⲁⲧⲉⲗⲁⲃⲉⲛ·” (John 1:5 GNT-ALEX)