Part 1: “Darkness Doesn’t Recognize Light”
By Sherita Harkness
We are beginning the Christmas season, and there is so much to be excited about—the nip in the air, the twinkling lights, everybody's in a good mood, and there’s more goodwill and kindness. I love all that.
But when we start to talk about the Christmas story, there is a tendency to romanticize it or modernize it. I don’t think we picture everybody riding around the desert on donkeys and wearing togas while sipping on Starbucks. But at times, I think it’s easy to mentally transfer the severity of our problems onto the people living around the time Jesus was born.
The truth is, the ancient world—especially for a small tribe of people dominated by the biggest empires of their time—was a thousand times worse. I’m not denying the fact that we are living through some chaos and extremely hard times, but I’d like to set the scene for the kind of times Jesus was born into.
In the years leading up to Jesus’s birth, things felt extremely hopeless, more than most of us could ever imagine. The rich and powerful dominated through sheer force, and this resulted in people in places like ancient Israel living either in bondage or under brutal oppression.
Simultaneously, the Israelites grew up hearing stories about a God who had called their ancestors out of slavery, led them through the wilderness, and promised them a King who would bless every family on earth by bringing justice and peace. For a while, prophets would show up every few generations and remind the Jewish people that hope was not lost, and there was a better picture of life on the way, where captives would be set free, and the poor would find rest.
Yet for more than 400 years, nothing much had materialized from those prophecies, and God had stopped speaking to the people— until a Roman census was declared, and a young, insignificant, Hebrew woman named Mary and her husband, Joseph, traveled to the remote, insignificant, little town of Bethlehem, and Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable. It’s within this context that the Christmas story unfolds.
As we read John’s gospel account of the Christmas story, he describes this baby Jesus as the “Life that gives Light.” John tells us that this Light “… was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice” (John 1:13–15 MSG).
John encourages us now, as he encouraged believers then, that we are not forgotten. It may seem like God is silent, but he is still present. Our world may seem dark, and it may seem like truth and goodness won’t win, like we’ve been overlooked. But we are not called to live our lives based on what we can see but rather based on our relationship with God as his children. That’s what the Scriptures mean when they identified Jesus as “Immanuel… ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23 MSG).
I find it completely comforting to be reminded that I’m not the first person to feel this way—that centuries ago, the Jewish people felt forgotten and were starting to wonder if anybody would ever show up to help. So as we begin the Christmas season, I am here to remind anybody who’s as troubled by the darkness around us as I am that you aren’t alone, and you aren’t wrong to feel the way you do. If it seems like the cultures and systems we live within reject goodness, it may just be because darkness doesn’t recognize Light. But the good news for us is the same as it was for the ancient Hebrews: the Light has plans the darkness can’t even imagine.