The canonical gospels tell the Christmas story in two different ways. The one more familiar to us is that of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea as told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  (The gospel of Mark doesn’t tell this story at all.) The second is the one told in the gospel of John. Here we find the story of how Jesus, the word of God, became fully incarnate in human flesh. It is the story of how God entered into the world in splendid light. The writer of the gospel of John writes of Jesus, “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”(John 1:4-5).

Later in the same gospel, Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”(John 9:5). And, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus is the light of the world. He is “God from God” and “Light from Light” as we affirm in the Nicene Creed.

The central Christmas message is that God became incarnate in Jesus. That is true whether it is told as the narrative of the birth of a child as in Matthew and Luke or in a more symbolic way as in John.

In the worship services of the Episcopal Church we read and tell the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem at our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. We read and tell the story of Jesus, as the light that enters a darkened world, being born in human flesh, on the first Sunday after Christmas. Both stories are read and proclaimed during the twelve days of the Christmas season.

We find many references to light and darkness in the gospel of John. In the first chapter of John, Jesus, the light of the world, enters a world full of darkness. The darkness now threatened by that brightness of that light is not able to overcome the power of that light, a light that comes from the very being of God (John 1: 4-5).

We can understand the darkness of the world in two ways —the first, in historical, political and social terms, and the second, in personal terms.

That world is a place full of darkness. Darkness is a metaphor for human sin, greed, corruption, and all of the things that are not in accord with the purposes for which God created them. [1]  We see the darkness of the world in crime and lawlessness. We see it in political institutions and governments. We see it in social inequality and injustice.

We also find darkness within our own selves. We see it in the sinful and self-indulgent appetites that make ourselves the center of the universe, often to the detriment of others. We see it in our quickness to find fault with others without realizing that those same faults are found in us. We see it in the dishonesty of the little things in daily life that we just let slide, saying that it is someone else’s problem and not ours. We see it in the lack of concern for the welfare of others. And we see it in our failure to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

At the same time, we find this darkness even deeper within us, in our loneliness and lack of hope. The world can be a dark and hopeless place. Sometimes, we are just a breath or two away from despair.  That is when we need to hear the good news of Christmas most of all. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

When hope is thin and frail, Jesus comes to us in our own dark night. He comes into the world to be near to us, to bring light into our darkness — to console us, and to save us. He comes to us in our weakness and our frailty, to enlighten the darkness within us, to bring hope. And when he comes, he brings light and peace that all may be well.

With the Mary and Joseph, the humble shepherds, and the heavenly host of angels let us give thanks to God for the gift God has given us at Christmas, the gift of God’s own self, in the person of Jesus. Gloria in excelsis Deo.


[1]‘Light’ and ‘dark’ are guiding metaphors for John’s gospel.  They have attracted overtones of racial bias that are inappropriate and have no place in the good news of Christ, who brings salvation to all people, light-skinned and dark-skinned alike.


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