“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5
The structure of this short sentence has always fascinated me. “The light shines” – present tense. “The darkness did not overcome it” – past tense. The light is shining now, and the darkness did not overcome it then. Why this juxtaposition? Who or what is John talking about? I’m pretty sure that the “light” is Jesus, but everything else about this verse is a mystery to me.
When faced with a puzzling piece of scripture like this verse in John, it is easy for me to get caught up in the details, to diminish a statement’s power in my attempt to dissect it. When this happens, I have to take a step back, to accept that I can’t fully grasp the verse’s original meaning, and to reflect on what they mean to me in this moment.
When I read this way, with my heart rather than my intellect, the haze around this passage clears immediately. I might not know John’s intention, but I know lights. Lights are the people who refuse to let the darkness, the sadness and pain of the world, overcome them or the ones around them. In particular, at this moment, the light I think of is Lorraine. Lorraine runs a little food pantry out of her home in Lincolnville, South Carolina. I called her last week to let her know that the food bank where I work is providing 50 free Christmas food boxes for her to give out to low-income elderly people in her community. Based on her response, you would have thought I told her she won the lottery. “Thank you Jesus!” she yelled into the phone. “God may not come when you expect Him, but he ALWAYS comes on time!” She forgot I was on the line for about 30 seconds as she rejoiced in the news I delivered. She brought tears to my eyes.
Lorraine is not a wealthy woman; in fact, she could use one of those 50 boxes herself. And the 50 boxes she’s giving out won’t solve the problems in her community, a place where one in five people don’t have enough to eat, hundreds lack access to adequate healthcare, and poverty rates are exponentially higher among people of color. Lorraine knows all of this, but Lorraine doesn’t let these details overwhelm her. She doesn’t let her light get snuffed out, because she knows people need that light, and she trusts that God always sends a little light just in time. So she shines in the darkness, regardless of the facts.
Lorraine is one of hundreds of lights I know, one of millions of lights across our world. I can shine my light with her. You can shine your light with her. God, who sends the light into the world, shines with and through all of us.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Keep shining. The darkness did not overcome the light; the darkness will not overcome the light. Amen.