He [John the Baptist] himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. 11 He came to what was His own, and His own people did not accept Him. – John 1:8–11
The very first words spoken in the Bible, and in creation itself, occur in Genesis 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” According to this morning’s text in verse 9, the world came into being through the True Light. That Light is the Word made flesh—Jesus. The difference between the beginning verses of Genesis and the beginning verses of John’s Gospel is that John doesn’t juxtapose light in the usual way with darkness. Instead, he focuses on the fact that creation is blind to the Light’s existence, rejecting the very Light that created it. We easily identify the Israel of Jesus’ time as “His own people [who] did not accept Him.” John’s Gospel is often referred to as the universal Gospel. If it is to be understood as universal, then his words must apply to us as well.
From the earliest days of human history, people recognized the importance of light for life. December 21st marks the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year. As the days grew shorter, many in the ancient world feared that the sun would cease to provide the light needed to sustain life. They feared darkness. By the 23rd of December, however, they were able to observe that the sun’s rays were once again growing stronger, and notice the days lengthening. But these people who were obsessed with light, and who understood its necessity for life, did not recognize the Light of the World.
In 21st century Los Angeles, we suffer from light pollution. We live in a city with so much ambient light that, even on the clearest of nights, most of the stars are obscured by light of our own making. This is a metaphor for our self-sufficiency. Even worse than being blind to the Light’s existence, we are blinded from recognizing the brilliance of the True Light. At church, we boast about the “million dollar view” we have from the patio and parking lot, marveling at the twinkling lights of the valley below. Yet we easily forget that the true Light of the World was born so that we might have a relationship with Him.
In reflecting on these verses, I was reminded of one of the most disturbing and distressing images I ever saw in L.A. On the morning of January 17,, 1994, I experienced my first earthquake. After contacting family to let them know that we were okay, Care and I got in the car to check on some of the older members of the congregation. As we reached the crest of the Sepulveda Pass on the 405, we were both struck by the lack of light emanating from the valley. The only visible light came from fires that had started as a result of broken gas pipes.
I was too shaken at the time to process the sight. Looking back, I now recognize God’s lesson for me. On a daily basis, in ways big and small, I refuse to listen to and receive Christ. The Voice, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, comments on these verses this way: “Jesus, as the Light, does not call out from a distant place, but draws near by coming into the world.” The only begotten Son of God, “God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God” in the words of the Nicene Creed, came so that we could draw near to Him and experience the light of His love. This is the universal lesson of these verses. This is the gift of God to each of us. Today, I challenge all of us to be like John the Baptist and “testify to the light,” not with our words, but with our lives.
– Steve Madaris