Many churches during the Advent season enjoy a service of “Lessons and Carols” – readings from the Bible paired with songs of the season to tell the whole sweeping story of God’s redemption. The final lesson (or the penultimate in some orders) is a reading from the gospel of John, chapter 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In the Word was life, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The light shines through the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Strangely enough that Greek word translated here as “overcome” is other places in the Bible translated as “understand.” The light shines through the darkness and the darkness does not understand it. I mean, who would? The light shines in the manger, and the darkness does not understand a plan to save the world with a baby. It makes no sense. Babies don’t save the world. Babies have no power.
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). Because actually babies have a lot of power. Babies can make fully grown humans bend to their tiny will. Babies accomplish their purposes without force. Babies have amazing power. Why? Because we love them. Because they woo us and win us over. It is their vulnerability that convinces us, that sparks our need to protect them and provide for them. Babies call forth the best and most selfless versions of us: our God-given desire to meet needs. Without saying a word, babies reorient our priorities to love and relationship and care and intimacy and spending time. So maybe you can save the world with a baby.
Maybe you can save the world with a baby who grows to be a man who keeps calling forth the best in us. Who by his selfless example, woos us to be selfless. Who reorients our priorities. But honestly, the darkness in me still doesn’t think that’s a very good plan for saving the world.
The darkness in me is sure that changing the world, that saving the world, is going to require a more worldly power. Dominance and force, coercion, power over. That’s how things get done. That’s how things change: when the people who have the most force use that force to make things change. What we need is for the people with the right ideas about how to do things to get enough power to force things to change. The darkness in me is sure that’s how we save the world. The darkness in me does not understand how a little light shining through, a baby light, could possibly make any difference.
The miracle of Christmas is how God’s plan of wooing and invitation and vulnerability and relationship is the plan that will ultimately save the world. In the season of Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation: God made flesh. We are astonished that one ordinary human life, perfectly lived in oppression and obscurity, selflessly given in love for others, that one life of holy fused with human could change everything. One life of holy fused with human could change me.
In these days we need to hear the message that the darkness does not understand the light, and that the darkness does not overcome the light. Because it’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed by the darkness.
And yet, God’s plan is for the light to spread, little by little, in the actions we take in our own small lives, in the brave and sacrificial ways that we choose to love our enemies. In the ways that we are vulnerable with one another, calling forth the best in each other as we meet the needs we see around us. The promise of the Christmas season is that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not yet and will not ever overcome that light.
Rev. Beth Gedert is the pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ-affirming congregation committed to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. You can reach her by email at [email protected].