LIGHT - Fall 2009
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1: 1-5
Light is a powerful metaphor for the life of humanity and the divinity of Christ because light itself is such a powerful, life-giving force. In fact, we cannot imagine life on earth without the energy input of the Sun! When Christ came, the light he brought, we are told in John 1, was not understood. The Greek term used is "katalambano", and it means to comprehend, take possession of, grasp, or get a handle on. That which is the source of our life is beyond our ability to get our heads around!
“He brought closer the stars” is the epitaph on the tombstone of Joseph von Fraunhofer of Bavaria (1787–1826). Von Fraunhofer is the father of spectroscopy, a process that allows us to ascertain the chemical composition of distant stars by analyzing the signature of light emanating from them. It is by studying light that distant worlds are brought close. It would be fitting to say that Jesus “brought closer the light and life of God!”. It is in studying the life of Jesus that we know true life.
While many throughout human history have found the Sun an irresistible image for representing what is highest, truest, and most pure, the Evangelist applies this image in a revolutionary way. Plato evoked the image of the Sun to communicate what the Form of the Good is like: the cause of generation and growth; a power that makes other things knowable, but itself beyond knowing. Yet, Plato argued, one could know the Form of the Good indirectly through the use of logic and reason. Likewise, Plotinus likened the source of all—the One, the Good, Life, Intellect, the Real, Divine Mind—to the Sun. Knowledge of this primal source of all purity and being could be grasped only through mystic insight. During the first centuries of following Christ, the mystery cult of Mithra sprung up in which one, by means of secret rituals, sought to lead their soul through the seven planetary spheres back to the place of abundance and light—the Sun. The god Mithra was likened to the Sun and solar events marked special religious holidays, especially the date of Mithra’s birth, December 25th.
Logic and reason, mystic insight, secret religious rituals—all means of seeking to access the source of true life and light according to ancient religions and philosophies. What a contrast to the message of the Gospel, in which the true life and light of humanity becomes a man and lives among his people! As 1 John puts it:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3
Unlike speculative philosophy and secret religions, the good news of Christ is the very source of life and He has made his dwelling with and among us; that God has subjected Himself to the very conditions of human existence. It is by living in the light of his testimony and Spirit that we come to know the source of abundant life.