Day 14

December 16

John 1:1-8

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The Light of the World

by Richard Russell, Ph.D.

John begins his Gospel with several truths; the first posits that the Word, Jesus Christ, existed from the beginning. Christian creeds postulate He was “begotten,” not born. This is a mystery we cannot plumb, but this opening verse suggests that Christ acted as co-creator with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In regard to this last person of the Trinity, Genesis 1:2 tells us that “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” And Genesis 1:26 states, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” “Us” refers to the Trinity, of course, and this verse from Genesis suggests what a high value the Trinity places upon human personhood for both man and woman. 

So the Lord Jesus Christ, the anniversary of whose birth to the Virgin Mary in a dusty outpost of the Roman Empire we celebrate coming ever closer each Advent, did important creation work from the start long before He was incarnated! 

How might we consider the rest of the passage? Verse five seems crucial to our hope of eternal life with Christ, which is kindled anew each Advent in the dark of winter:  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John knew that “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (verse 4). From these interlinked verses, we realize that the emphasis on lights at Advent and Christmas, secularized though such displays may have become, nonetheless recalls such passages. John insists on the primacy of Christ as the light of the world, bringing hope of eternal life to all those who believe in Him. One of our most important cultural institutions, the Star Wars franchise, suggests that we are locked in a Manichean fight of light versus darkness. But John comes to bear witness to Light’s victory, he tells us, as this passage concludes. John is no light-bringer, but his words here, inspired by the Holy Spirit, lead us to the Light, the Logos, the Christ-child. 

Dorothy Sayers, the great twentieth-century Christian dramatist, essayist, mystery writer, and translator, captured the importance of such orthodox dogma as John offers here when she notes in her essay “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged” that the doctrine of Jesus as both God and man in one person is truly “good news. . .  although we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.” For Sayers, Christianity’s adherents at the time did not convey the excitement of their beliefs and rendered the faith dull as dishwater. Instead, she vowed in another essay, “The Dogma Is the Drama,” “Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction.” 

In their clarity, selective repetition, use of light imagery, and witness, the first eight verses of John’s Gospel do just that.

About the Author

Richard Russell, Ph.D.

Richard Russell, Ph.D.

Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., has been a member of Baylor University’s faculty since 2001. Russell serves as a professor of English and graduate program director for the English Department. His areas of expertise include Modern and Contemporary Irish literature, though he began his graduate career studying the literature of the American South.  

Dr. Russell earned his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published numerous books and more than 45 journal articles, most recently his book James Joyce and Samaritan Hospitality was published in January 2023 through the University of Edinburgh Press.