Have you ever wondered where Christmas lights started? Even though they were available for use as early as the mid-1880s, but had trouble getting a foothold in the market.
At the time, electricity wasn’t widely available or affordable…but that wasn’t the main preventative. According to public opinion, electric lights were too much of a fire hazard, so they stuck with using candles.
It wasn’t until 1894 when President Cleveland featured an electric tree at a White House function that they began to find their place as a status symbol.
That doesn’t answer the question of why, though. Why is Christmas so deeply tied to the concept of lights, a warm fireplace, candles, and light in the darkness?
Christmas candles, advent lights, warm fires, and eventually string lights were intentionally used as symbols for the birth of Christ. This theme of light in the darkness is saturated in Scripture and stays with us today.
However, I would argue there’s more depth to be seen in the image of light and darkness.
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
What changes how we see the birth of Christ and the impact of this text? In John, darkness is not the absence of light. Darkness is its own character, it’s own force. This radically changes our reading of John 1:5.
For John, light is not filling a void, it is replacing evil. It is replacing, not filling.
Let’s think about it through the lens of a military analogy.
If darkness is the absence of good, then darkness is land that has yet to be occupied.
If that is the case, light shining into the darkness would simply be “the good guys” occupying previously empty land. There is no struggle, no battle, no conquering.
What is the end result? The land is now good.
However, if darkness is its own force, then darkness is land that is currently occupied by enemy forces.
If that is the case, light shining into the darkness are the good guys invading land under the oppression of evil. That requires a war, conquest, and a victor.
What is the end result? The land has been redeemed. It was brought from oppression and into freedom.
Understanding John’s characterization of darkness throughout his biography of Jesus moves us from seeing Jesus as a new good to seeing him as a conquering force.
That is the message of Jesus and the story of Christmas. A light (Jesus), shining into the darkness, and a light that cannot be overcome by the dark.
It is hope breaking in and conquering oppression, replacing sin, and occupying our hearts and our communities so forcefully that the dark stands no chance.
The message of Christmas and the birth of Christ is not the story of a helpless baby filling a void, it’s the declaration of war and victory over the dark oppression of brokenness and evil.
So this Christmas, let every Christmas light, every evening around the fireplace, and every candle reminds you that the light has come, hope is here, and the darkness cannot overcome.
Austin Walker has been in ministry for over a decade, and currently leads a student ministry team at a multi-site church in Central Arkansas.