The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5, ESV).
During the season of Epiphany, we celebrate that our Light has come and revealed Himself to the Magi, and to us. He came as a baby, fully God yet fully man. He came in the darkness, during the night, but light was all around His birth. The angels came singing to the shepherds, lighting up the night sky. By the light of the star, He led the Magi to Himself. He came as the Light for the Jew and the Gentile alike.
Yet, even as God revealed Himself, darkness seemed to reign. After the Magi told Herod of the King who had been born, Herod ordered the murder of every male child two years and younger. How dark it must have seemed to those mothers whose babies were snatched from nursing breasts and brutally murdered, all for the crazed earthly King who feared that his earthly power would be stripped away. How dark it must have seemed even to Mary and Joseph as they traveled in great fear and trembling to Egypt, where their own ancestors had once been slaves, in order to protect their child from their own King!
And how dark is our world, where babies are killed by their own mothers in the womb not at the decree of a King, but by their own choosing.? How dark is our time, when the basic building blocks of society, like marriage and the family, are crumbling and being undermined all around us? How dark is our time, when many of our missionaries serve in places so hostile to God’s Word that their lives are challenged or perhaps even endangered by the work they do? How dark is our world, where terrorists set off bombs in crowded places to do as much damage as they possibly can? How dark is our time when typhoons ravage thousands and thousands of lives and leave nothing behind but utter destruction? How very dark is our world, where Christians are murdered by the hundreds, their homes burned, and their churches destroyed simply because they dare to profess the Name of Christ?
Epiphany. The season of light. Oh, how dim the light seems at times. But Epiphany really means “manifestation” or “revealing.” In Christ Jesus, God manifested Himself once for all in graciousness and mercy to all people. God Himself came to tabernacle in human flesh. He brought life, and “that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Jesus came and shone God’s light in powerful ways — He commanded nature, He drove out demons, He healed the sick, He taught with authority, He raised the dead. Into the darkness of rejection, disease, a broken creation, Satan and his hordes, and death, Christ brought His light. His light shone in that darkness, especially in His Transfiguration, when the light of His glory shone from His face. And incidentally, this is where the church’s season of Epiphany ends—at Transfiguration Sunday—in what seems like the culminating point in Christ’s manifestation of Himself and His true glory.
And then we descend into darkness again. And it seems to be winning. Christ sets His face toward the cross when He comes down from the Mount of all that shining glory. And as He is beaten, crucified, and lies dead in the tomb, by all tangible accounts, it seems that the darkness has overcome the light. It seems like the light has gone out. But the paradox of the death of Jesus is that His light shines brightest when He is lifted up upon the cross. The greatest moment of Jesus’ glory is not the Mount of Transfiguration, but the Mount of Calvary. The greatest moment of His revealing is not on Epiphany Sunday, but on Good Friday:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die (John 12:27–33, ESV).
In our darkness, Christ again manifests Himself and brings His light to bear on our broken world and our broken selves. Even when the darkness does not comprehend Him, and especially when it seems to overcome, Christ continuously manifests Himself to us in Body and Blood, in Water and Word. He sets His cross before our eyes so that we may see that the light of His glory is found in His death on our behalf. And the day will come when the darkness will no longer hold any power at all. The day will come when Christ returns to earth in the final Epiphany, and the sun will no longer be necessary because He, the Light of the world, will drive out all the vestiges of the darkness and shine His light on all forever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Light of the world, hold Your cross and death ever before our eyes so that we may always see the light of Your glory in Your death for us; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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