Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

By Jan Richardson

Witness of that Light © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

On Christmas Eve during my first year as a pastor (at a church just up the road from Disney World), I stepped into my office during a quick break between the six worship services we were having that evening. I spotted a gift that my senior pastor, Bill Barnes, had left for me. Opening it, I discovered an illuminated edition of The Book of Common Prayer. Containing an early version of the BCP, the volume includes nearly two hundred miniatures taken from a variety of illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. The book enchanted me and remains one of the coolest gifts I have ever received.

I picked the book up tonight and was enchanted all over again, partly for the memories it evoked, partly for the doorways of history and imagination it opened to me as an artist, and partly for the book itself, its intricate and vivid pages shimmering (even in reproduced form) with gold. It’s the presence of gold that qualifies a manuscript as “illuminated,” and many medieval book artists drenched their pages with this precious metal. Artists, and their patrons who commissioned these books, were drawn to gold both because of its lavish quality and also because it signified the presence of the God who not only gives us light but who also came into this world as light.

Light shimmers through the gospel reading that the lectionary gives us for Christmas Day: the stunning prologue to the gospel of John. Tonight I read the version contained in my luminous Book of Common Prayer—the King James Version, of course. In this passage that I love and have read approximately a zillion times, what struck me tonight, in this version, were these words:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all…through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light.

Most times when I read this passage, I’m focused on John the Evangelist’s powerful description of how Christ came as the Word: the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that came as life and light. As a woman with a passion for the Word, and words, and the bonds between them, I never cease to be stunned by the power of this poetic passage and what—and how—it tells us of the One who entwined himself with us as life and flesh and light. Yet tonight, amidst the stunning words about the Word, my eye keeps going back to John—the one whom we call the Baptist, the one who prepared the way—and how, as the King James Version puts it, he came “to bear witness of that light.”

We need darkness, and I often find myself uncomfortable with the ways that we in the Christian tradition perpetuate stereotypes that hold that all that is good is light and bright and white, and all that is evil is dark and black. I’ll say it again: we need darkness. The seed in the ground, the child in the womb, the body and soul in rest and in dreaming: we must have times of shelter from the light in order to grow in the ways God calls us to grow. I love that verse in Isaiah where God says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (Isaiah 45.3).

And yet, even as it calls us to honor the gifts of the dark, this season bids us recognize our ancient longing for light, and to celebrate the One who came to us as light. Amidst the shadows—some necessary, some horrendous—God beckons us to look deeper, to look more closely, that we may find the presence of the Christ who shimmers there. And, finding that presence, to bear witness.

How do we, in our own lives, do what John the Baptist was called to do in and with his life? How do we bear witness of that light?

As we cross the threshold into Christmas, here at the end of our Advent pilgrimage, this is a question I’ll be carrying with me, tucked in the traveling bag where all my mysteries go. In the days, weeks, months to come, how will I bear witness to, point toward, open myself to, embody the God who came as life and as light? Are there any shadows that I’ve grown too comfortable with, any places of darkness that God might be wanting to stir around in and shed some light on? Are there any pockets of ignorance or indifference within me that God might be desiring to illuminate? Is there some dark corner of my soul that I’ve been content to leave in shadow, in mystery, where God might be inviting me to kindle even a small flame and wait in stillness to see what reveals itself?

How about you? What question will you carry on the path ahead? What light beckons you as we spiral into the coming season?

Wherever your path takes you, may this Christmas be for you and yours a day of celebration, a day of hope, a day of peace. A luminous day. I am grateful to you for sharing this Advent journey, and I welcome you to join me at The Painted Prayerbook, where I’ll soon return to explore some words and images in the year to come.

May Christ our Light go with you in every season. Merry Christmas!

CHRISTMAS BONUS: To hear a wondrous song from my singer/songwriter sweetheart, inspired by the prologue to John’s gospel, click this link: Garrison Doles-“From the Beginning” (from Garrison’s CD House of Prayer).

[For previous reflections on this passage, please see Tangled Up in You and Door 25: The Book of Beginnings.]

[To use the “Witness of that Light” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

12 Responses to “Christmas Day: Witness of that Light”

  1. juniper Says:

    Jan, Thanks for sharing your words and thoughts here. I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to late and dark in my own life, and I find it’s a mercy to have those internal seasons reflected in the calendar seasons. You might be interested in this essay, which I wrote for the local community newspaper – another reflection on the need for both dark and light.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Juniper, thanks so much for passing along this link to your article—what a wonderful reflection on the gifts of light and darkness. I appreciate how you name the ancient longing for light that is basic to us as humans and runs across traditions, and how in the midst of this we can celebrate the ways that this longing (and God’s response to this longing) manifests in one’s own particular tradition. Thank you for inviting us into the light and the dark. A blessed new year to you!

  2. Laure Says:

    Merry Christmas, Jan.

    We all would do well to sit with the wisdom of these words you’ve left … with these questions.

    Thank you.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Belated thanks, Laure! (Still catching up on some things in the wake of Christmas/being sick/etc!) Merry continued Christmas to you, and a wondrous new year. Thank you for your words.

  3. Carolyn Sargent Says:

    Such delightful fuel for these coming hours. Thanks Jan and a blessed rest of the season to you ~

  4. Maureen Says:

    May your continuing journey with the Word continue to bring us the richness of your own words. Merry Christmas!

  5. pspringer Says:

    Email responses to your Christmas entry:
    I forwarded to sisters. From my sister in law ” Yes! Zoom zoom, sweet stillness of the manger alights gently on our shoulders, then CaBAMM! sorrows are drowned, nails we pounded into our hands to torture ourselves are sprinkled with angel dust and dissolved, hearts pounded into steely cold vaults are melted and recreated into juicy love machines that pump out peace and joy. Zoom!!! Take off! :)”
    My response to her response: “Zoom zoom, over the treetops of wild and wood, angel dust sprinkles on and into every limb and cell, of every beast and being. Communion. Baptism invitation to live and love and unite. Blessing each and every into the sacramental feast called life. Zoomzoom.”

    Merry Christmas, Jan. PSS

  6. John W. Woodard Says:

    Jan, thank you for the wonderful reflection. I am on a long journey to become an ordained minister. This is the type of thing I need to give me views that I can use to help build my assurance that I am following the correct path.
    My pastor’s sermon title for this Sunday January 1, 2020 is:
    “The Word With Words”. Thank you again, and may God bless you with a “spacious” home. Happy and Blessed New Year!

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