How do you tell the Christmas story? In the New Testament Luke tells the story as we know it best – angels visit John the Baptist’s father, and then Mary; there is a journey to Bethlehem, a stable, and the shepherds’ visit. Matthew takes Joseph’s perspective, and tells us of the mysterious wise men. Mark starts his gospel later, as the adult Jesus bursts on the scene set by John’s baptisms.
John? – John is more reflective. (John 1:1-14) He tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (v5) But the English translations cannot quite get the word – “overcome” can also be “understood”. (Check out the different translations!).
The darkness was pretty obvious. The world in which the baby was born was violent, unjust, hard for many people in many ways. You could say the same today – I don’t need to point out the problems of our world (political, ecological, military, medical . . ) or invite you to detail the problems and threats in your own life at the moment. Of course the darkness doesn’t understand the light. Those who need to win at all costs cannot understand love and service; those who don’t care if their lifestyle ruins a world for others will never want justice, let alone to share equally in God’s plans.
The point John wants to make – the Christmas point – is that the darkness has not put out the light. It shines on. Despite the plotting of Herod to murder all rivals, despite the indifference of the innkeeper and his favoured guests to the needs of a young, but poor, mother, the baby is born and shines.
That’s our celebration. Not that everything is wonderful – there is still plenty of darkness – but that the light shines in it. Where the light shines, the darkness is dispersed. Each person chooses. Either you welcome the light, following Jesus even when it is difficult, reflecting light into new corners; or you block the light, and leave others in your shadow.
But you can’t stop the light shining! That’s good news.