“Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”
These words mark the opening of the service of Evening Prayer (Lutheran Service Book, p. 243). The language of light and darkness reminds us that Christ, our light, has overcome the darkness of sin, death, and the evil one. Christ as the light of the world is taken directly from Scripture and is a recurring theme throughout Advent. As a new Church Year begins in the season of Advent, we are surrounded by reminders in Scripture, in hymns and the liturgy, in traditions, and in nature, that light remains a crucial component both of our biology and our faith.
The Creation of Light
The opening words of Scripture tell us about the origins of light and its triumph over darkness in creation:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1–5)
The first words recorded as spoken by God are “let there be light.” He speaks light into creation and calls it good. He does not call the darkness good but instead separates light and darkness as distinct entities. The light is called “Day,” but this light precedes the sun itself. In the very beginning, then, God shows us that light is from Him and that it is the first step in creating a world that is good.
The Light Foretold
During Advent, we hear several mentions of light, as the people of old were promised a light to overcome the darkness of death—prophecies ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Matthew 4 tells us that these words are fulfilled in Christ. In case we had any doubts, Jesus tells us frankly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
In the days leading up to our Christmas celebration, we join God’s people of old in waiting for the light to come. We are also the ones who dwell in the land of deep darkness, a land of death. The season of Advent begins in the darkest days of the year as we approach winter. The cold and the dark serve to remind us viscerally of our sinful state and our need for salvation. We await both the remembrance of a coming in Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem and the fulfillment of the promise of Christ’s second coming on the Last Day. We eagerly await the coming of the light both theologically and in nature and look forward to the life it brings.
As we wait, we look to humbler sources of light to remind us of who we are waiting for. We light the candles on our Advent wreath and notice how even the tiny flames hold the darkness at bay. We notice the stars in the night sky at earlier and earlier times each night. We put up our Christmas trees, decking them in tiny electric lights. Humans need the light, and as it disappears for increasingly longer stretches of time in late fall and winter, we seek as many sources of it as we can find. These small sources of light encourage us while we dwell in the darkness and point to our need for the day to dawn again. We eagerly await the sunrise with confident hope. So, too, we await Christ’s coming with confident hope.
Rejoicing in the Light That Overcomes the DarknessOne of the most well-known Advent hymns, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” ( LSB 357), takes its text from the ancient “O” Antiphons, which are based on scriptural names of Christ. The “O” Antiphon for December 21, the winter solstice and the longest night of the year, turns our focus from the darkness around us to Jesus, who is the light appearing as the day dawns: “O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Even in the darkest night, we look for the light of day to come. Jesus is the “Dayspring,” and so we sing:
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to
thee, O Israel! (stanza 6)
Indeed, we do rejoice as the light overcomes the darkness in the days following the winter solstice. As the earth turns on its axis, we experience the light returning to push back the darkness of night. Furthermore, we rejoice that Christ, the light of the world, has come to push back the darkness of death. He is the great light that shines on us! We sing the liturgy of Evening Prayer and the Advent hymns celebrating the light and we hear Scripture’s promise of the light shining on us in the land of great darkness with confident hope that Christ will come again. The light of the world has ultimately scattered the darkness, and we joyfully await His second coming to bring us to the land where light reigns eternally.
In the beginning, God created light. This light preceded candles, lamps, electric bulbs, and the sun itself. As the Scriptures open in Genesis with God creating light, so they close in the final chapter of Revelation with the promise of a new light:
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)
On the final day, we will glory in that light forever.
Celebrate Advent by using hymns and carols from Lutheran Service Book.