19 June 2017

John 1:1-18

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (v. 5)

Psalm: Psalm 20


It's the middle of June so naturally our minds turn to 24 December. I jest, but kindly play along with this Christmas Eve game. From a UK perspective, think candlelit church on a frosty evening, rosy cheeks and woolly pompom hats. Think angelic chorister voices from King's College wowing your digital sound systems - still the world's finest accompaniment to parsnip slicing and sprout peeling. Most of all though, think last lesson of the traditional nine-lessons-and carols service. It's this one: John 1. Utterly jaw dropping in its mystery.

There are choices in translation when it comes to our key verse and what darkness did or didn't do when confronted with light. Traditional carol services will often run with the much loved King James Bible version in the English of days gone by: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Darkness just didn't understand light. The New Revised Standard Version (above) suggests darkness did not "overcome" light.Did not 'master'it would be another reading. The Greek word κατέλαβεν [kateleben] is big enough to give a sense of all those options. Verb tenses matter here. The light is always shining in the darkness: continuously on and on and on. Try putting it out with the candle snuffer after carol service. You'll be there all night: it won't oblige. Then the next [aorist] tense somehow conveys that darkness has failed, emphatically, to grasp and get the better of light. Never, ever has it done that. The implication? It never will.

John's Gospel introduces God's life-light Jesus through confident declaration, not reasonable explanation. The reader gets no answers to massive questions: how the one who came so much later could possibly be at the birth of creation (verse 3) and apparently offer the world more than Moses (verse 17)? It's impossible to comprehend. Believers can never master such mystery. Good. Because on the day smug mortals think they fully 'get it' rather than faithfully trusting it, darkness begins to sing ever so quietly, "We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day…".

To Ponder

  • What do you reckon life's biggest mystery is?
  • In Christian theology, if light always needs to triumph over darkness, what implications are there for those who are blind or visually impaired?