Gather a group of women of a certain age, with a Southern Baptist heritage, and they will most likely know all the verses of the old missionary hymn “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” The refrain begins with “For the darkness shall turn to dawning” and concludes with “And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.” As a grade school girl and early adolescent, I sang the hymn with gusto, thinking of the mission of the church to the world. And when I travel to Burma, I still hear it sung.
Thankfully, the colonial impulses that accompanied the missionary enterprise have ceased for the most part; the question remains how best to bear witness to the light coming into the world in Jesus. The prophet states the hope of humanity:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; light has dawned upon them, dwellers in a land as dark as death (Isaiah 9:2).
This text promises the messianic figure who will renew the hope of ultimate salvation.
For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us to bear the symbol of Dominion on his shoulder; and he shall be called in purpose wonderful, in
battle God-like, Sovereign for all time, Prince of Peace (verse 6).
In the beloved Rublev icon of the Trinity, there is stripe on the image of the Son symbolizing the statement “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” The earthly color of his garment also portrays his solidarity with creatures of dust. He comes into the world as we all do, as a fragile and dependent baby.
The Gospel of Luke echoes Isaiah’s birth announcement with these words:
Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you—the Messiah, the Lord. And this is your sign: you will find a baby lying wrapped up in his swaddling clothes, in a manger (2:11-12).
The theme of God’s great illumining is repeated; darkness is overcome by light. The shepherds keeping watch through the night are startled by the angel, “and the splendor of the Lord shone round them” (verse 9).
It is fitting that in the very darkest time of the year we celebrate the birth of the one called the “true light.” Bringing tidings of peace and great joy, Christ seeks to draw all into his great shining.
As we gather on Christmas Eve in our congregations, sharing candlelight and carols, let us rejoice once again that God chooses to vanquish the darkness as Christ’s great reign comes on earth, suffused with light. Let us recall John’s testimony, “The light shines in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it” (John 1:5).
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.