Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John." And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name." And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for usin the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathersand to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his peoplein the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us or when the sunrise shall dawn upon us; some manuscripts since the sunrise has visited us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Most of human history would have called the idea preposterous. Just the thought of such a thing would have been regarded as fantasy. Oh, we've had our lamps and lanterns and torches and hearths. But the notion that simply flipping a switch could instantly blast away the shadows? That would have seemed pure folly. Think of it. The common use of the common light bulb has only occurred since about 1880. Before that, people everywhere lived with the ever-present reality of creeping darkness just beyond the tiny glow of the fire.
Living in a world lit only by flame is hard for us to imagine. But remember the panic we feel when the storms get bad and the lights go out? In an instant, you rush for the candles or hope for fresh batteries or stumble to find the frightened child. Those few minutes of unwelcomed darkness are a palpable reminder that darkness can overcome us. The blackness of the storm feels thick and sticky. We are swallowed by it.
It's no wonder that Scripture so often uses the imagery of darkness to teach us of the pernicious power of sin. The Bible makes plain that when sin entered the world, and when sin controls our heart, we live in the shadowy dark valley of death. And all of us, when we strain to see in the inky blackness of our own soul, long for the sunrise. Even in our electrified, night-light world, we are right to be afraid in that kind of darkness. If we're honest, our hearts cry out, "When will the light come on? Who will comfort me in the dark?"
It's no wonder that God, in His mercy, promised a savior who would destroy the darkness. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, "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" (Isaiah 9:2). And John the Baptist's dad, when he could finally speak again, said about his son,
"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)
It's no wonder that the Apostle John begins his account of Jesus by teaching us,
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-5)
It's no wonder that the Lord Jesus would use language that every human heart understands when He proclaimed, "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, '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).
And it's no wonder that the wonder of Christmas bids us come. Come into the light. He will drive away your darkness. Thanks be to God!