Old Hope for the New Year

by Mike McKinniss

I’ve got babies on the brain. My wife and I are expecting the arrival of our first—any day now!—and the occasion has propelled my mind, quite naturally, to new beginnings. During the Advent season, it was a new and wonderful experience to be anticipating the birth of our own daughter while we read the stories of our savior’s arrival. Now, I don’t expect our little girl to be the world’s redeemer, but we’re excited, nonetheless.

In the process, I landed for a time on a passage occasionally associated with Christmas, though it doesn’t highlight the nativity. It’s John’s prologue:

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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:1-5, NIV).

In the beginning. Made. Life. Light. Darkness.

We’ve heard these words before. They’re words borrowed from the very first pages of the Bible. (Go ahead and read Genesis 1:1–2:3 to get the full context.) It’s a funny thing for John to begin his story about Jesus by first reminding us of creation. What’s he trying to do?

What John and his original audience would have known—and we might not—is that the Christ-child entered a world predominated by darkness. Jesus was born to Jewish parents in the heart of Palestine, maybe a year or two on either side of what we would now call year one. At the time, Jesus’ countrymen were weary. For 700 years (700!), this once noble people had been toiling under foreign oppression. Their latest overlords, the Romans, were among the most brutal, at one time (not long after Jesus’ resurrection) publicly executing so many Jews on crosses, they ran out of wood. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were enslaved by crippling debt. Where could they look for relief?

It was as Isaiah had predicted several generations earlier: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isa. 60:2a, NIV).

Is our darkness so different? Political leaders the world over, it seems, are deaf to their people. Here in California, raging wildfires spring up and overwhelm whole communities in minutes. Or, if you’d rather, immense hurricanes drown an entire metropolis in a few hours. For many, bills are too long and paychecks too short. Worse, no one seems to live as they ought, hurting themselves and others.

Darkness covers the earth just as my little girl is about to emerge.

So it was, according to Genesis 1, before God got to work. Then he set about thrusting back the destructive waters, hanging lights in the sky, and calling forth life from the black and chaotic wastes. In the midst of the darkness, the creator birthed order, hope and peace.

Why does John nod toward creation as he opens his Jesus tale? Is it because God is starting over, scrapping the old in favor of something new? Better: the Jesus story, John poetically tells us, is a story of re-creation. That is, in Jesus God is setting out to take all that has been made and redeem it, right down to the very last inch.

Darkness may indeed cover the earth, and it might cause two young prospective parents to despair—no doubt many couples forego children for this very reason. But every child born is an act of faith. It’s a declaration of trust in that God has indeed begun a project of making whole his torn creation, and at least one more life is going to embark on the journey of discovering his subtle, persistent and all-encompassing goodness.

What’s more, John assures us that no darkness will ever overcome the light from this re-creative act.