The Promise of the Prologue: Reflections on John 1:1-18
The second flower in my spiritual bouquet is this. I give thanks that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (1:5).
Craig Koester in his insightful book Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community expounds on this affirmation.
Darkness in the gospel of John is depicted as light's adversary. As the light shines, the darkness threatens to overcome or overtake it (katalambanein). This language connotes the coming of nightfall and the lengthening of shadows that engulf the earth as the daylight fades. Since light manifests the power and presence of God, the darkness refers to the powers that oppose God: sin and evil. In John's Gospel, sin is human rebellion against God, which is manifested in hostility toward Jesus, the Son of God. Evil is the suprahuman power that seeks to thwart God's will. It is sometimes identified with the devil, Satan, the ruler of this world, and the evil one . . . the powers of evil skulk in the background, seeking to extend their tentacles through the activities of Jesus' human adversaries. Sin and evil are formidable foes, but the light of God's Word holds darkness at bay (Koester, 126).
The third flower in my spiritual bouquet is a prayer of thanksgiving that God assists me in welcoming this light into my life. The Prologue tells us that the presence of God incarnate in Jesus was the life and light of all people (1:4). Light is an "archetypal symbol," that radiates meaning in various directions. Light can warm the bones and burn like a laser. It can give the assurance of vision and threaten exposure. Light can be gentle as it dawns and glaring at noon day (Koester, 123-24).
Not everyone wants the light to shine in their darkness. The Prologue tells us that "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world. . . but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (1:11,12). Light is available for me, but I need to turn on the switch. Light shines into our relationships and communities when we welcome it into the depths of our lives to heal, but also to expose, to warm, and to burn away disease.
God in Jesus lights our path so that we can see more clearly our need for the fullness of divine light. I give thanks that I do not have to rely on my own determination or wisdom to welcome the light, but that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth (1:14).
Says Francis: "Those who have been walking in a beautiful garden do not leave it willingly without taking with them four or five flowers in order to inhale their perfume and carry them about during the day."
Here is my spiritual bouquet:
- I give thanks that the light and life is intended for all people.
- I give thanks that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
- I give thanks that God assists me in welcoming this light into my life.
Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
Douglas V. Steere, Doors into Life: Through Five Devotional Classics (Harper and Brothers, 1948).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.