Christianity, Culture

The Light of the World

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Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Napthali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: And the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:1-7, NKJV).

Some Christians think we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas. Or at least we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas when and how we do. Something about it having pagan roots with the pagans celebrating the passing of the darkest day of the year around this time and maybe some similarity in the ever-living, evergreen motifs between the pagan celebration and our modern celebrations. I don’t know. I hear different versions of why we celebrate Christmas when and how we do, and I didn’t bother to do research for the purposes of this blog post. Mainly because it’s not my issue.

Personally (from a northern-hemisphere perspective), I think this time of year is the perfect time to celebrate the incarnation.

I don’t think the “pagans” were wrong for wanting to have some fun to break up the long wintertime in the middle, nor wrong for breathing a sigh of relief and being glad to see the back of the shortest day of the year. Nor the Christians for co-opting these traditions into their own celebrations. There’s nothing inherently ungodly about enjoying the changing of the seasons. On the contrary, I say. In the Christian view, God made the seasons.

Where the pagans celebrated nature through their worship of false gods, of course Christians would want to leave behind the worship-of-the-false-gods parts of the affair while keeping the good and true parts—in the same manner that we’ve always had to pick our way through the culture around us. “In and not of,” so to speak, finding the common ground we can with anyone we can while standing firm on the things we believe to be compromising to the faith (and those pricks of the conscience will be different for different Christians, so my issue in this blog is also not trying to convince anyone to celebrate Christmas against his or her conscience. This bit was just explaining why I, personally, don’t have conscience-pricks about celebrating Christmas when and how we do. In fact, my conscience wholeheartedly embraces the celebration.)

And again, personally, I find this time of year the perfect time of year to celebrate the incarnation and Christ’s birth. We don’t know the date of Jesus’ actual birthday, so why not December 25th? It’s that darkest-season-of-the-year-becoming-lighter-again time that seems perfectly fitting for what we’re celebrating. That is the story of the incarnation: “God with us.” God coming down to us and making Himself one of us. His light piercing our darkness. His little signs of coming springtime promising the ultimate defeat of the “White Witch” and the seemingly-endless winter of that power’s reign over our fallen world.

Even though I’m an odd one and I love winter (my favourite season, probably in no small part due to its associations for me with the joys of Christmas), even I wouldn’t want winter to last forever. Around about mid-March, I’ve had more than enough. By the end of March, the subtle signs of the natural resurrection that happens every year and the new life that’s on its way is potently meaningful to me. Especially in contrast to the half a year of winter we’ve just survived.

And it’s the contrast—the light being set off by the darkness, showing itself even more beautiful against the backdrop of blackness—that I find myself returning to again and again as a theme this year.

Today, some thoughts occurred to me on the story of the magi that prompted this blog post on the subject of “the Light of the World.”

How significant and symbolic that part of the Christmas narrative is!

I was watching a YouTube clip on the subject of the “Christmas star” and how, perhaps, the original “Christmas star” may have been an unusual conjunction of planets that the astronomy experts of that time would have noticed and (also being astrologers) would have read some meaning into. Being able to look into the natural past in a way by reading the history of the heavens, modern-day astronomy experts have some knowledge of what went on in that heavenly history. And it seems there were some planet-alignments similar to this most recent event that would have occurred around the broad dates of the birth of Jesus. These heavenly events could have fit the bill for a “star” that seemed to come and go and move as described in Matthew (planets being “stars” that don’t hold still like the rest). It was an interesting clip, so I’ll post the link. But again, not entirely my issue this post.

Whatever the heavenly pinpoint of light we call a star that led the wise men to Bethlehem, it’s the deeper meaning behind the event that struck me today. That light shining in the darkness that the world doesn’t apprehend or comprehend (John 1:5), what an appropriate symbol for the celebration of this time of year.

Our sun, of course, is also a star. But its proximity is what makes it the light of our world. From our perspective, the rest of the stars (and heavenly dots of light that we refer to under the generic term of “stars”) are just dots and pinpoints. Just little signs. Just little reminders of the beauty of light in the midst of darkness.

It also struck me as fitting that these mysterious characters, the magi, saw the star of the “King of the Jews” in the east but somehow recognized it as a sign of the “King of the Jews.” Bible scholars have long wondered if this was the influence of prophets like Daniel or other exiled Jews in Babylon and Persia who managed to leave a lasting legacy of the knowledge of a future, coming Jewish Messiah (King).

He is “the Light of the World.” From the start of the nation, the Light of the World was never about working solely with one, chosen nation. One large point of choosing one particular man to become one particular nation was for the sake of preserving the knowledge of Himself and shining it out as a little pinpoint of light into its dark surroundings when all the other peoples of the world had neglected or rejected the knowledge of a One True God (see Genesis 12:3).

How mind-blowing and beautiful that it was Gentile astronomers/astrologers who grasped enough of the truth to come on a long journey for the purpose of worshipping the Light of the World they knew of in such a distant way.

The story has a very dark follow-up with Herod the Great’s slaughter of the innocents around Bethlehem. But that is also ultra-typical. The fight between the light and dark is fierce, but ultimately, the darkness cannot overcome it.

I don’t know about you, but I personally (and I know this is true for a lot of us) am leaving behind a rather dark year. And maybe, we’re not very optimistic for what’s to come. But there are pinpoints of light in the distance. Our Sun will rise one day. The Light of the World has not abdicated. The White Witch will not win ultimately. It’s still the Son’s world, and He’s still its light. 2020 is bringing us closer to perfect vision, and light is all about seeing things as they truly are. The darkness looks darker and darker, but it’s showing us more and more the beauty of the light by contrast. The stars are only visible when all other light is absent.

Although this Christmas, I was half-boycotting all the usual things I would do to celebrate (because I wasn’t feeling very festive and I didn’t see a point to just going through the motions when those motions weren’t having their usual effect on me), no matter my state of mind, I never fail to be moved by the yearly-traditional words about the truths I celebrate—all year round but in a special way this time of year.

“… and you shall call His name JESUS [‘Saviour’], for He will save His people from their sins.” “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.'”

“‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'”

That’s what we celebrate this time of year. “God with us.” Not against us. Coming down to us as one of us. Becoming a human baby for the purpose of breaking down the barriers of darkness between us. Good tidings of great joy to ALL PEOPLE! Peace with God and His goodwill toward us, offering us a Saviour to save His people from their sins.

His light in our darkness! That’s what it’s all about!

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