Barbara E. Reid
The Nativity of the Lord (A), Dec. 25, 2010
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)

Nearly the whole world was riveted by the rescue on Oct. 14 of the 33 miners trapped for more than two months below the surface of the earth in Chile. Among the many concerns about how they would adjust to normal life again, was the effect on their eyes of their exposure to light after such a long time underground. The miners were given dark glasses to shield their eyes from the sudden brightness. There had also been concern about the effect on their spirits from extended light deprivation. One of the miners, José Henríquez, took on the role of pastor to the group, leading them in prayer twice a day so that they would not succumb to the darkness of despair. After their rescue, Henríquez spoke of what he considers his obligation to testify to how God used him to help bring his companions out of darkness into the light.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the Word becoming flesh as “light” that “shines in the darkness” and of its radiant effects. In the fourth Gospel, darkness and light are frequently contrasted, with darkness serving as a metaphor to signify everything that is opposed to God. It should be noted that this literary convention is not intended to feed racism, privileging light skin over dark. In fact, Jesus and the people of his land would not have been pale-skinned. The evangelist often uses this dichotomy, light versus darkness, to set before the reader the choice between belief and unbelief.

The prologue makes three important assertions about the light. First, the light that was coming into the world enlightens everyone. There is nowhere it does not shine. It can pierce the stoniest recesses of the heart. It must, however, be consciously chosen. It does not force its way into any caves in which we may choose to retreat. All who choose to accept it share in the light and spread it. Some, however, prefer darkness to light. Later in the Gospel, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds might not be exposed” (3:19-20). This dualistic contrast does not account, however, for the fact that no one walks totally in the light or completely in the darkness. There is always something more in us that needs to be brought to the light.

Second, while the light shines in us, we ourselves are not the light itself. Like John, we are illumined by the true light and we testify to it, inviting others into its brilliance, but we know we are not the source of the light. It is through God’s desire and divine initiative that we share in this life and light as children of God (vv. 12-13).

Third, no matter how deep the darkness, it cannot overcome the light (1:5). There is no individual or collective sinfulness that is able to extinguish the divine light. The opening phrase of the Gospel recalls the opening line of the book of Genesis, which introduces the first creation account. Most likely written in post-exilic times, it asserts that although the nation has considered itself guilty and punished in Babylon for its unfaithfulness, God considers humankind, along with all creation, very good (Gn 1:31). The Gospel assures us we are always capable of letting ourselves be brought to the light. Like the rescued miners, we are offered the way out of darkness and now must be willing to testify to the power of the light within us.

Barbara E. Reid, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., where she is vice president and academic d

Readings: 
Readings: Is 52:7-10; Ps 98:1-6; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18
Prayer: 

• Invite the Light of the World to shine more brightly in you.

• How do you testify to that light?

• Ask Christ to illumine anything that keeps you in darkness.