“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …what came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people … The true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”
These are the first words from John’s Gospel, for this first day of firsts (the first day and Sunday of a new month, the first day and Sunday of a new year, and the First Sunday after Christmas).
Looking back over the past year, I realize I’ve discovered, or re-covered a renewed appreciation for receiving mail. Especially at Christmas.
And I don’t mean e-mail. I mean opening old-fashioned, real paper, mailbox-visiting cards in the mail.
Thank you to all who gave me Christmas cards this year! I enjoyed opening each one.
When I visited my mom’s apartment at Christmas, we spent time looking at her decorations and commenting on the Christmas cards she received and displayed on a table beside her advent wreath. Several of these cards came from far-away and overseas.
One caught my attention. It was a photograph whose centrepiece was baby Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by spruce trees decorated with real candles. I immediately responded favourably to the real spruce trees—it reminded me of the beauty of creation common in Canada.
But it was baby Jesus, something about the way he was lying in his makeshift crib—the feeding trough—that, frankly, disturbed me. And it took me a moment to understand why. It was the way his little arms were spread out and feet were crossed that reminded me of the end of Jesus’ life on earth.
As I contemplated this depiction of baby Jesus, I realized I wasn’t just looking at a baby boy born in a Bethlehem barn during the reign of King Herod in first century Palestine. In that moment, time expanded to include both the trajectory of Jesus’ life on earth—the future, and the past—long before Jesus was born.
Let’s start in the past. The Incarnation was in the works since the beginning. The opening verses from the Gospel of John echo the first days of creation described in the first book of the bible, Genesis.
What did God create on the first day? Light. Light is the subject of the first day of creation. Light is the first action of God on earth. The light first shone when the world was created, “when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.”
The true light was already shining in the shadowed places. The light was already shining in the darkness before Jesus, the human person, was born that first Christmas. That is why John writes that the light was coming into the world; it’s an ongoing work of God.
So instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it is more accurate at Christmas to assert that Jesus came out of an already light-infused world.
With J. Philip Newell, I would assert that salvation in Jesus is not the bringing of light to a creation that doesn’t have it, but rather “the liberating of light” from within, a light that is already there.
This realization brings me to my knees in confession. Because today, the problem we deal with is our resistance to the light. The problem is how we refuse God’s love and presence in our already light-infused world. Pray with me for God first to open the eyes of our minds and hearts to see in the shadowed places what God is doing.
We see in the original Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth that there’s really nothing pretty about the first Christmas. All the ways human beings end up resisting the light within us and the earth is personified by the ruthless King Herod.
Right from the start of Jesus’ life, Herod is threatened politically by Jesus. Right from the start, Jesus is the target of the authorities and political powers. The slaughter of the innocent children highlights the gross injustices of our world whose selfish, power-hungry ends will justify the means at all costs—even killing children. Jesus, already at his birth, lies in the fore-shadow of the cross, and his eventual death at the hands of the powers-that-be.
The way baby Jesus’ feet and arms were positioned on that Christmas card was, in my mind, like Jesus in scenes depicting his death on the cross. I wonder if that connection—between Jesus’ birth and death—was intended by the artist of that Christmas card.
One lesson we can take away here is that the birth of Jesus does not remove the presence of evil in the world. It was true in the first days of creation. It was true at the birth of Jesus. And it is true today.
Another lesson along the way, which is the Gospel—good news, is the light still shines. It is still there, sometimes burning brightly for us to see. And sometimes, we don’t perceive it at all. And we may need to re-focus on where God is revealed and how God frees the light shining within our hearts and in this world.
On the journey now with Jesus, here is some good advice from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, on how to journey with Jesus when we find ourselves in the darkness of night and in the shadows of life:
Go slowly; Consent to it; But don’t wallow in it; Know it as a place of germination; And growth; Remember the light; Take an outstretched hand if you find one; Exercise unused senses; Find the path by walking in it; Practice trust; Watch for the dawn.
On the first day of this new year, 2023, may you know moments of light, moments of grace, moments of love, as the dawn breaks anew.
 John 1:1-4,9
 Genesis 1:3-5
 Ibid., 19 December 2022
 J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), p.11-13.
 Richard Rohr, ibid., 21 December 2022
 Matthew 2
 Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, “What to do in the darkness”, in Holly W. Whitcom, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005), p.38.