Light is a central element in the Christmas story. The shepherds are overwhelmed by the light of the heavenly angel announcing the Savior’s birth (Lk. 2:8-14), the Wisemen are guided to the Christ child by the light of the star (Mt. 2:1-12) and Simeon proclaims that the baby Jesus is a fulfillment of God’s promise that His Servant would be “a light to the nations” (Is. 42:1-7; Lk. 2:25-35). In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for light is “or”. In the literal sense it is light from heavenly bodies (Jer. 31:35; Ezek. 32:7) but it can also mean light itself (Gen. 1:3; Ecc. 12:2). The pillar of fire was a light for Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21). In the Old Testament (as well as the New) light is always used as a positive symbol, such as for good fortune (Job 30:26); victory (Mic. 7:8-9); justice and righteousness (Is. 59:9); and of one who brings deliverance (Is. 49:6). There are some prominent expressions that also involve light: the light of one’s face means someone’s favor (Ps. 44:35); to see the light means to live (Ps. 49:19); and to walk in the light means to live by the standards God has made known to us (Is. 2:5).
The New Testament word, “phos” (pronounced foe-ss), also carries similar meanings. It is used for light in itself (Mt. 17:2; 2 Cor. 4:6); light emitted from a luminous body such as a lamp, a candle, a fire (Mt. 14:54; Lk. 8:16; 22:56; Acts. 16: 29; Js. 1:17; Rev. 18:23), or the sun (Rev. 22:5); of daylight (Jn. 11:9-10) and the opposite of darkness (Mt. 10:27; Lk. 12:3; Eph. 5:13); of the dazzling light which is God’s glory surrounding His throne (1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 21:24) and Christ’s physical appearance after the Resurrection (Acts 9:3, 5; 22:6, 9, 11; 26:13). And like its Old Testament counterpart, phos can be used in a figurative fashion as well. It can mean spiritual understanding (Jn. 3:19; 8:12; Acts 26:18; Rom. 13:2; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 2:8); how that understanding is exhibited in the way one lives (Mt. 5:14-16), and the conscience, i.e. the “inner light” (Mt. 6:23; Lk. 11:35). But perhaps the most significant use of the word phos in the New Testament is its connection to the fulfillment of Is. 9:2 in Mt. 4:12-17. Jesus as the Great Teacher and Savior of the World is The Light who brings life and immortality to its fullest in His Gospel (Lk. 2:32; Jn. 1:4-5, 7-9; 3:19; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46) so it is no surprise that He makes the claim “I am the Light of the World” in Jn. 8:12. But would one expect such a significant Light to make its entrance into the world as a baby? Probably not!
There was a time when our boys were growing up that we spent Christmas Eve with some very dear friends. On that night they turned off all the lights and lit everything by candle light. The ambiance was quite beautiful! The church I grew up in also had a wonderful tradition with candles. As the final minutes of Christmas Eve came to their conclusion the carol “Silent Night” would be sung. Each person had a small candle in their hands and one by one they would all be lit around the sanctuary. Precisely at midnight the organ would burst into “Joy to the World” and we’d lift up the candles and we sang about Christ’s birth. The light of a candle is the epitome of Christmas symbols and a perfect reflection of “those who walked in darkness” coming to “see a great light” even as a babe in a manger (Is. 9:1-7). It is my hope and prayer that The Candle of Christmas Jesus Christ, would burn brightly in your celebration of His birth this year and that you in turn, will shine His light on those around you.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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