of christmas, and dawn


The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
(from Do You Hear What I Hear)

I think it results from too much early exposure to the song This Little Light of Mine. I remember singing it when holding my chubby finger straight (in order to be a little light) was a challenge. I watch the little gaggle of tots in my Sunday school attempt it now, waving their miniscule fingers about, not hiding them under a bushel but hopefully, dispelling the darkness of the whole neighborhood…

When I think about Jesus as the Light of the World, as he says over and over in John’s Gospel, my mind wants to picture him as a candle. When John writes that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” I see a candle—the flame lessens the dark, the dark can’t cover the flame. But in any room lit by only a candle (as we have frequent reason to note) there are so many shadows. The room is still dark, and, however beautiful, the candle is–inadequate.

Do we see Jesus’ light as weakly beaming out into an otherwise dark space? Creating a little spot of warm light around it that does little more than emphasize the huge shadows in the room? He’s born in a stable with a star shining warmly down like a spotlight—and a dark world all around. Keble College at Oxford houses William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World”, where Jesus knocks on a door with a glowing lantern suspended in his hand—but he’s surrounded by a dark forest.

When the sparkle, glitter, and glisten of Christmastime begins, and our homes glow with strings of lights, flickering candles, and shiny stars, and we make much of cosy-in-the-midst-of-dark, let us not underestimate the coming of the one true Light into the darkness.

If you, like me, start picturing a candle, remember the powerful prophetic words of Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.” It doesn’t sound like a candle, does it? My favorite Christmas verse isn’t in Isaiah 9 or even in Luke 2. It comes just before, when John the Baptist’s father, the priest Zechariah, is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies these words, “…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

God’s son does not come into the world like a candle. He rises like the sun.

We wave candles around when we sing the carols, but they describe a much, much greater enlightening. He’s “risen with healing in his wings” (Hark the Herald Angels Sing). Silent Night says the radiant beams from his holy face proclaim a “dawn of redeeming grace.”

This isn’t striking a match. It’s the dawn. The kind of cosmic moment when “The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more…” (O Little Town of Bethlehem).

A thrill of hope,
the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks
a new and glorious morn…
(from O Holy Night)

The night has passed and morning has come at last. The full Day approaches. Hope. Take hope.

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3 Responses to of christmas, and dawn

  1. Dana Dunn says:

    Yes! Beautiful!
    Isaiah 49:6
    He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
    To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
    I will also make You a light of the nations
    So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
    Thank you, Betsy!

  2. Novandi says:

    Wow, excellent observation!
    We make far too much of candles and far too little of the Bright Morning Star.

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