Jesus: The Light of the World
By Ian Kissell1
Some words have their significance slowly erode away the more you hear them. The Christmas story can easily fall into this category. Though beloved, as we hear them every year, it is easy for it to become just another story. But sometimes, an event sears a meaning unforgettably into your brain.
I was living in Greece at the time and had come to Athens to spend Christmas with some friends. We had all packed up onto public transportation to make the journey to Christmas Eve service at the church they attended. Between our final bus stop and the church building is Omonia, an infamous district of Athens. In 1973, an oppressive military government rolled a tank onto the Polytechnic University of Athens Campus to stop a student demonstration, killing several students in the process. Since then, Universities are places of asylum where police forces are not allowed. A consequence of this is there is a street which runs next to the same University which is outside of the university fence, but still counted as part of the asylum zone, and has become a meeting spot for drug users. Every night, hundreds descend on this short street which now lay between us and our destination to shoot cocaine. Spent needles littered the ground, and at this point in the evening, there were around fifty people milling around, preparing for the upcoming night.
We made our way through warily and attended the Christmas Eve service which is one of my favorites to date. As traditional for these services, we ended with a candlelight singing of Silent Night, made even better since fire codes in Greece allow you to actually turn off all the lights in the room, unlike in America. Most of us blew out our candles as we left the church, pondering the powerful words of the carol. One of the girls, however, rather liked it and walked back to the bus with it lit. By the time we passed through Omonia, there were triple the number of people there, every one of them high on something. It was oppressively dark; not merely because of the moonless night—and one little candlelight was shining. One light, in the middle of all the darkness. Piercing, but what really could it do?
I was reminded at that moment of the words in John 1:4-5:
In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not katelaben.
I'm never really sure if the world is getting better or worse. For every great stride humanity takes towards fixing one of the many problems which plague our existence, we also invent some new form of evil. We shake our newly invented, truly marvelous, technological fists at nature; only to have the latest natural disaster remind us exactly how good they are at times.
The word katelaben is difficult to translate. Some prefer a translation of comprehend, meaning that the world did not accept Jesus because it did not understand Him (1 Cor. 2:8). However, it most generally means to seize, and I think that idea is better here. The darkness did not overcome the light&mdsah;It could not. Just like that one candle, shining alone in the darkness, pierced the night; so too does the light of Jesus. And that really is the beauty of Christmas; the light that came into our darkness. Perhaps the words of the hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem" say it best:
O Little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie
Above they deep and dreamless streets the silent stars go by
Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are me in thee tonight
I don't how good or bad your last year was, but I'd be willing to bet that it included some shattered hopes and realized fears. I don't know what sort of personal darkness you might be facing. The message of Christmas is that Christ has come; Emmanuel, God is with us. The light is here, and it shines in the darkness. And the darkness will never—ever—overcome.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in
Merry Christmas. God is with us.1 Ian Kissell studies Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and has served in Central Asia with East West Ministries and in Greece with Agape Student Ministries.