On November 16th the Christmas tree lights were switched on in my hometown of Carrickfergus.
Loving Christmas but hating crowds I somewhat reluctantly attended with my wife and sister-in-law. Hundreds of people (perhaps even up to a 1000 or more) showed up to see the Christmas tree lights go on.
The ceremony itself was pretty underwhelming, after a long countdown from 10 to 0 an unimpressive tree was lit by not enough white bulbs. As soon as the lights were switched on, we all moved from the town centre, across the road, to the harbour for the firework display. The firework display was much more exciting than the Christmas tree.
It was actually a really good firework display – something of a surprise as Carrick residents will know.
But what really struck me was the focused attention of this large crowd. Everyone’s gaze was held by the fireworks streaking into the sky and exploding in a fountain of colour. People were mesmerised – myself included.
What was so mesmerising? Well, I think it was this contrast between the bright lights of the fireworks and the dark blackness of the night sky. I know that it was this stark contrast of light on a background of black darkness that had captured my attention.
I immediately found my mind running to Jesus’ statement in John 8:12 as I watched the firework display – ‘I am the light of the world’.
Jesus is the light of the world.
He is the promised fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises and as he arrived on earth over 2000 years ago he began his mission of bringing light to the nations. Jesus came to earth to rescue people from the darkness through his substitutionary death. Jesus himself says this later in the Gospel according to John, ‘I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness’ (12:46 ESV).
Throughout the gospels, again and again, we read that this man taught like no other and did things that had not been seen in Israel before (Mt. 7:28-29; 9:33). Jesus’ life stood out from all those around him – there was a stark contrast between his light and the darkness of the world. This was confessed by the Roman soldiers at the moment of Jesus’ supreme act, his death in our place, as they confessed ‘Surely he was the Son of God’ (Mt. 27:54 ESV).
All we must do is hold up Jesus and people will be mesmerised by him. Now not all will like him, some will be angry at many of the things he said, some will be delighted at his social concern, others will fail to understand all that he is and means, and yet if we faithfully hold Jesus up he will call to himself those who are his.
As we edge ever closer to the 25th December, and celebrate ‘Christmas’, let us take some time to pause and consider Jesus, the light of the world.
The prologue to John, which in many respects appears to forgo the Christmas narrative, reminds us of the light that people were waiting for. As John describes Jesus (the Word) in the opening five verses he refers to him as the light and tells us that the darkness has not overcome him (v 4-5). As we read on we then find that John the Baptist proceeded to bear witness about this light (v 7-8). This light he witnessed about was the true light, who was coming into the world (v 9).
This is who we celebrate on the 25th December – Jesus, come to earth.
The bright light of the fireworks faded quickly in the night sky. Each bright flash of light lasted only a few seconds, and the whole series of bright flashes a matter of minutes.
Like the fireworks, Jesus, the light of the world, didn’t spend very long on this earth – around 33 years – however, as we celebrate his first coming let’s remember that he is coming again and with his second coming he will bring with him an end to the darkness, dispelling it by the glorious light of his person which we will see reflected in the light of the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 22:5).