Light even invades the first Christmas, long before LED bulbs and icicle strands. Matthew focuses on a star that guides the magi. Luke depicts the glory of the Lord shining around the shepherds and Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, poetically anticipates the birth of Jesus as the rising sun coming from heaven "to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1:79). A baby is born and the darkness is pierced, shadows are dispelled, a path is revealed. The Christmas lights are lit.
In our day, Christmas lights are primarily decorative. Drab winter is turned into magical Christmas with the help of oodles of lights. String lights on a barren tree and it doesn't look so barren. The browns and grays of winter are overcome by an array of illuminated colors.
But for all the luminescent beauty of light, this image of Zechariah's is not trimming. Light is only secondarily decorative. Zechariah depends on a more fundamental function. Light illuminates, reveals, exposes. When we are engulfed in darkness we don't need decoration, we need illumination. We need light just to keep from stumbling. This is Christmas. The manager scene is as much a sun rise as a baby's birth. In Christmas, the light is just cracking the horizon. Light is penetrating a dark world.
And this darkness cannot be restricted to that which is other and outer. It is more personal. It's not just a darkened world, it's a darkened heart. I know what lies hidden in the shadows of my soul. I am petty, arrogant, selfish, bitter, deceptive, angry. There is a parade of ugliness beneath the surface. Zechariah makes plain what is intended by the metaphor of light invading darkness when he says that the Lord will, "give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." (Luke 1:77).
Advent is a reminder that what I need most desperately is not a life more attractively decorated, despite what the Sunday glossies would have us believe. I need my darkened souls illuminated. This is the sun that is rising. The darkness of sin is being overcome by the light of the infant Messiah. I It won't shine in full glory until Easter. But those first rays of light breaking through the darkness are glorious indeed.