Monday, November 29, 2021

Expecting the Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

These verses aren’t the Nativity narrative we are used to at Christmas time, but they are some of the most poignant interpretations of what we mean when we say “Immanuel.” Let’s focus on the second half—the image of light.

Throughout Scripture, the presence of God is shown with light. Sometimes God wields His creation to display His glory; other times, the light is God’s very presence. With the Incarnation, God humbly wrapped the Light in a baby’s body, that He might show us the way. Yet before Jesus was born his relative, Zechariah, had more to tell.

In the first chapter of Luke, when the people were outside of the temple waiting for Zechariah to emerge, they were praying and anticipating a blessing. After lighting the incense on behalf of the people it was customary for the priest to bestow the ancient blessing passed down from Aaron:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Number 6:24-26)
But Zechariah was never able to speak those words. All he could do was gesture and point. The people surmised that he had seen a vision. How many people left that day wondering what that vision might be? They didn’t seem curious enough to ask Zechariah to spell it out. But fast forward nine months. Those near him on the eighth day after John was born finally got to hear a blessing from the priest:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

(Luke 1:76-79)
It says “fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts. . .” (Luke 1:65-66a)

Aaron’s blessing was a regular reminder that God was shining His face on His people. That His very presence (countenance) would give them peace. R.C. Sproul teaches on this idea in one of his sermons about the crucifixion. He says, “The Israelite understood blessedness concretely: to be blessed was to be able to behold the face of God.” It was a present truth. And it was a future promise.

On that day, Zechariah did not bless the people but instead showed them that God was turning His face towards them in the biggest way possible. Their prayers were being answered. A Light was coming to shine in the darkness.

As we look forward to the second Advent, the day when Christ returns, we are anticipating the fullest revelation of that Light. Sproul concludes, “someday [we will] experience the fullness of the benediction of Israel. We will look unveiled into the light of the countenance of God.” Until that day, we wait. Like the people outside the temple, we wait with expectation.

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