“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and what God was, the Word was. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.”—John 1:1-5 (switching between two translations, the New Revised Standard Version & the Revised English Bible)

My Church always reads from the first chapter of John’s Gospel on Christmas Day (and on the Sunday afterwards). John’s Gospel has been called the mystical gospel, and it’s easy to see why from this chapter. The Gospel doesn’t say who wrote it. It does claim to be based on the testimony of the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved,” though it also says that the final version (the one we have) was a group project (21:24). I still call it John’s Gospel because that’s what it came to be called. It’s about Jesus as experienced by this mystically inclined community.

For the second year in a row, for obvious reasons, I simply want to comment on one sentence: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.”

The light shines IN the darkness. What happened in Jesus, what’s still happening, is not at all like flipping on a light switch. It’s like lighting a candle when all the other lights are off. Think of a single candle in the middle of nowhere on an overcast night. That’s the light that shines in the darkness.

Let’s compare what things looked like to me last year with what they look like now. Here’s what I said a year ago:

“2020 is certainly not the gloomiest year in human history, but it may feel that way, because it’s happening right now. And nobody is going to flip a light switch in 2021 and dispel all the gloom. Yes, there are reasons for some cautious hope. The vaccine will eventually help. Some elected officials are trying to behave like adults. MAYBE assistance is on the way. But we have no idea when the death rate from COVID-19 will stop climbing. And you apparently can’t expect elected officials to be that adult-like when so many voters refuse to be. Whatever assistance may be on the way is little more than a Band-Aid. It’s hard to see more than gloom and doom right now.”

So now it’s a year later. Is 2021 any better than 2020? I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve been vaccinated and got my booster as soon as I could. But that virus keeps mutating! People continue to foment all sorts of conspiracy theories about the virus and about vaccinations. And conspiracy theories about elections still abound. The future still looks bleak. Nobody’s going to flip on a light switch in 2022 and dispel all the gloom.

But this is where the light shines, IN the darkness, “and the darkness has never mastered it.” This unmasterable light kindled at one far-off time and place turns out to be the light of all people, “the true light, which enlightens everyone … coming into the world” (v. 9). So when you and I refuse to give up altogether, it’s shining. It’s not at all like flipping on a light switch, but it’s shining, enough to take a few steps more. And. It. Can’t. Be. Mastered.

Merry Christmas!