Posted on December 25, 2013


JB Phillips is dead now. I still read his paraphrase of the New Testament, though.

This morning I read, “The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out” (from John 1: 5). I have read that verse multiple times in more literal translations, but Philips chose to include one little word that brought the flood of hope I needed today.


“The light still shines in the darkness…”

Bullets spray across villages in our northern neighbor, but the light still shines.

However, before getting too excited, about this kernel of goodness, I knew I needed to go back to my Greek New Testament and see if I wasn’t holding onto something that wasn’t really there— to make sure this interpretation is valid. (Yes, Roger Mohrlang, Jim Edwards and Bill Mounce, I do still pick up my beloved GNT. Though you can bet that between trying to decipher the dialect of my one year old and advance my ability to communicate in Swahili, that it generally sits under a thick layer of red African dust.)

I scan the page and find the word I’m looking for, phainei. Nothing fancy here. Just plain old present active indicative (the light shines). But then I remember that this can also be translated as continuous, the light is shining.

I read the passage a few more times and I’m struck by something else I’ve never noticed. Every, every, verb up to this point in the passage is past tense. And then, boom, present tense.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:1-5 ESV, emphasis mine)

The light shines, is shining, shines on. This is not some mere past event. It is right now. Today. This moment. I need this. I really need light to be now. I hear updates from Sudan and my heart breaks. Where is light in the midst of this darkness? Today many children are right now laughing and tearing open presents. In Sudan they are running from their homes. Perhaps watching their parents killed. (And I don’t mean to be a Christmas kill-joy…so just hear me out).

I’m sure many of you have your own darkness you are trudging through, even in the midst of Christmas celebrations. Perhaps you are suffocating in the darkness of what feels like a hopeless marriage or longing for a marriage that hasn’t happened yet. Or maybe the darkness that comes with sickness. Or death. Many of us just have an ever-present darkness of feeling listless. Like life is some ridiculous carrousel, and happiness must be just around the next turn.

Living here I see darkness all around me, and often it feel like there is not even a prick of light in the midst of it.

And in all this, this ancient text speaks.

The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out. (Phillips translation)

The light still shines. And perhaps I am a fool for believing this. God knows many would think that. But I do believe it. I believe there is a good God. Not a puppeteer, pulling marionette strings to instantly remove the darkness. Rather he shines into it. He steps into it.

And isn’t that what we are celebrating today?  God stepping in. It’s absurd, really. That a God, if there is one, would actually come near, come into our world. And as a baby?! Who grew up in a poor family. Never had political power or pomp, but humility. 

Some days I’m not even sure I can believe it. But, mostly in an upside-down sort of way, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

And so, today, on Christmas, I’m praying this. That whatever your darkness is— whether it feels oppressive, or it’s something hidden away under layers of facebook and netflix and shopping (anything so you don’t feel it). Whatever your darkness is, I pray the light of Jesus would shine in the midst of it.

And then, this Christmas, let us enjoy family and friends, and laugh and sing and eat and open gifts, not to momentarily lessen the ache of darkness in your life, but in celebration that Light has come. Surely there is nothing else worthy of such a grand celebration.

Today our little family of 3, in our little house, in this big city, half a world away from most of you, is celebrating light breaking into our darkness.