One of my favourite places to stay in Far North Queensland is Chamber's Wildlife Lodge. It's near Lake Eacham, an old volcano now full of water, and is a clearing in the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands. They advise that if you are not used to the dark of the country, then you should leave the bathroom night on at night, like a night light (hence the title of this post as a reference to a They Might be Giants song). It is the theme of light in darkness that John is concerned with here.
Both light and life seem again to be references to Genesis 1, where God creates light and brings life to the earth. As mentioned in previous posts, this all points towards a new creation through Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.
Light is a theme in many religious traditions. Yet Christianity shows its colours here in claiming that Jesus is the true light. One might wonder if this is a sustainable claim in our modern, multifaith world (or indeed no faith world). Yet the first century was also a world of many faiths, so the claim is no less or more (despite what some atheistic scientists might claim) incredulous now then it was then. Does the claim then that Jesus as the true light mean that all other lights are false? Perhaps, or at least than many are incomplete. The unknown author of Hebrews recognizes that Jesus completes all that came before it in the Jewish faith, and Paul in Athens can recognize that 'pagan' poets capture some truth and that Athenian idolatry (although offensive to Paul's monotheism) was a reaching after the truth.
So what do we do about this claim to exclusivity, to Jesus being true light? It isn't something we can avoid. It isn't something to be ashamed about. But it is something to be humble about. Let me make a couple of quick points.
- The true light came into the world. He was not brought down, worked out, though out, discovered, sought, recognized then nor now without divine help. What we know we did not come to know on our own, from our own efforts or by our own cleverness.
- Every one who responds to him is enlightened by him. Note man here is the general world anthropos, meaning human being. If we are enlightened by him, again it is like light shining in the darkness, not darkness shining in the lightness. After all, no light, no eyes. Light does not need darkness, darkness needs light!
- Jesus is public knowledge. He shined and shines in the public squares of Jerusalem, Rome and Melbourne. This knowledge or enlightenment is not some secret cult but public knowledge. Enlightenment is for the many and not for the few. We are not the elite but the common, not the experts but the blessed.
- Like John, we ourselves are not so much the light and light bearers. We carry the torch of the gospel of Jesus - the message and its effects in our lives. We preach Jesus and what he has done for and in us, not ourselves. Christians should be the humblest of all, and not self righteous.