What good is darkness? Think about it. What purpose does it serve?
I will say that I like darkness for sleeping and am in some way annoyed by light, even dim lights. There is a nightlight in the hallway of our home, as there is also in the master bathroom. It amazes me just how much light comes from these dim bulbs, and I am forever closing those doors to keep the light out. My clock on the nightstand displays the time in red numbers, and I hate how bright it is. I often turn it at an angle so that it does not catch my attention.
Have you ever worked with photographic development in a darkroom? You have to go to extreme measures to be sure that light does not break through cracks in the doorframe, etc. There is a warning light outside the door to be sure nobody breaks in at the wrong moment, because the light will ruin everything you are working on.
I’ve shared this illustration before — from my (now elderly) mother-in-law who was a little girl during World War 2, and she vividly recalls being told in blackout drills how critical it was to keep every light off — that even a lit cigarette was visible at night from the air.
In the vein of the Geico commercials, if they personified one about light, it would read, “If you’re light, you penetrate darkness; it’s what you do!”
And yes, that is true. Darkness is passive; light is active. Light breaks into and dispels darkness. Long before dawn fully breaks, you can see the light making its inroads, beating back the night sky.
Light dates back to Day 1. God separated the darkness and the light, as in Genesis 1:3-4 …
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
The theme of light breaking the darkness and serving as the beacon and focal point of God’s presence is seen over and over in Scripture. After one of the curses on the Egyptians being that of the descent of darkness, the children of Israel followed a pillar of fire that represented God’s presence and guidance in in the wilderness. God was said to be the light of salvation for his covenant people (Psalm 27).
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a light into the world, and how that light would particularly come and shine to the people who lived in Galilee, people who were on the fringes historically of what was “happening” in the world and who were away from the center of worship. Isaiah said …
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
And so the gospel writer John picks up on these themes to speak of the coming of Jesus into the world. It was indeed at a time of history of great darkness and despair … of centuries of unfulfilled hopes and dreams and ancient promises.
1:1 — 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 all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all 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 everyone was coming into the world. 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 did receive 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 Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
What are the descriptors of the history of mankind? Are they not words like sin, poverty, injustice, war, disease, death? And though advances in science, knowledge and technology bring measures of benefit for mankind, they also bring new ways for man to more effectively accomplish all of the aforementioned evils.
Man’s light does not dispel man’s darkness due to the curse of sin.
But there is a divine light that penetrates the darkness. And it is not just the overflow of God’s brightness spilling all over the place. Rather, it is the specific coming of that light in the form of humanity–in the person of Christ. And as the text says in John 1, this is the true light that gives light to everyone.
The incarnation is indeed the beginning of the pivotal event(s) of history. And though we have no command in Scripture to celebrate or particularly remember this, the significance is worthy of the focus. And the central feature of this penetrating light is to bring us hope and joy. Even unspeakable joy.