Beginnings come in darkness. In Genesis 1, when God created the heavens and the earth, what’s the first thing he says? “Let there be light.” And by his word, there is light in the darkness. When we’re born, we are born from the darkness of the womb into the light of the delivery room. I can promise you that every one of my sermons begins in the darkness of obscurity and uncertainty and unformed thoughts; by God’s grace I trust they end up in the light of clarity and truth, but they certainly don’t start there.
And as John tells us, it was into the darkness of our world, the darkness of fear and hatred and pain, that Jesus came. He didn’t have to; he was the Word by whom God created everything that is, and he is the Light who lit up the primordial night. His life is the only reason anything lives. All things began when he set the light of his life shining into the darkness, and that light has never stopped shining. He is the one who lit the stars and set them spinning; he is the source of all true light and everything that is, and there is nothing at all that exists that he did not create. He didn’t have to step down from light into darkness, and it shouldn’t have been necessary; the only response to his goodness and his glory should have been worship and awe.
But we human beings resist that; we keep turning away from the one who made everything that is to chase after things that are not, things of our own imagination, little gods of our own preference. We turn our backs on the giver of all light to pursue things that are blind because we cannot make them see, and so we consign ourselves to darkness—to the darkness of our selfishness, our uncertainty, our ignorance, our fear, our anger, left with only our own desires and our need for control to guide our path. So the Bible means when it tells us that all have sinned—all, mind you, even the best of us—and fallen short of the glory of God.
And so Jesus who is the light and the source of all life, who gave life to all that is and light for the day and night, who watched those whom he had made, whom he loved, reject the light of his presence for the darkness of our own self-will, was not willing to let that stand; and so he came down into the darkness of human society—into the darkness of the human heart—and became one of us; the God of all creation, shaper of the planets and kindler of the stars, was born as one ordinary human baby, among the ordinary people of the land, so that he could speak to those he loved face to face. His light which had been shining from the beginning of creation now shone out undiminished from one indisputably human face, where it could not be ignored or explained away, though many tried; and though the powers that be finally tried to snuff it out by killing him, yet his light still shines, for he rose again, shattering the darkness and showing the end of its power. And though he has left this earth in his body, he left behind his teachings and his church, and in us, however imperfectly, his light shines even now.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not—mastered it. The translation you heard says “the darkness has not understood it,” others say “the darkness has not overcome it,” but we shouldn’t be choosing, because both are meant here. The light is fundamentally separate from the darkness, which cannot understand it, cannot comprehend it, cannot control it, cannot do anything to it, and above all cannot put it out. There is no darkness so deep that light will not shine through; there is no night so dark that you cannot see Jesus. The darkness tried to put him out, and it’s tried many times to quench his light in his people—all too often with our help; but through it all, despite it all, Jesus is still faithful, and still at work, and he still rules, not the darkness. Through it all, the light shines.