It's not a new or earth-shattering idea to say that words have power. We live in a culture saturated with thousands of words competing for our attention. Twitter and cable news are a never-ending stream of the latest controversy, tragedy, and celebrity scandal. Texts and emails pile up with demands on our time and energy. That stack of Dickens and Brontë you bought intending to read more classics collects dust in the corner (might be speaking from experience here...) All the while we feel an enormous pressure and immediacy to be in the know and have our voice heard.
In this passage, we see Jesus speaking as the clear and ultimate Word, under the authority of the Father. Instead of bringing a word of judgment, the Word’s purpose is to illuminate the dark places and drive out the evil in the world through His presence. "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness (v.46)." This echoes John's earlier words about Jesus, that “in him was life, and the life was the light of men (1:4)." God didn’t simply issue a decree from on high to save us. Instead he sent a person, both fully God and fully man, into the physical reality of our world, to free us from the darkness of our sin that caused us to be separated from God. In an example of the beautiful mystery of the Trinity, Jesus is pointing to the person of the Father, saying that “whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me (v. 44,45).” To see Jesus is to also see the Father who sent Him, in a way we never could apart from the Son.
While the words in this passage bring comfort, they also challenge. The Word that brings light and life has a hard message for those who hear his words and willingly choose to stay in darkness. In verses 47 and 48, Jesus says that while he did not come into the world as a judge, “the one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
This passage calls us to an increased focus on the Scriptures during Lent. Through reading the Word, we can let the light cleanse our hearts of its dark places and brighten our path. Hebrews 4:12 says that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Let's cling to that word, the Word that knew us and loved us before the world began. The Word that is more eternal, more life-giving and more perfect than any of the clamoring voices that threaten to crowd it out.
Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider and loves traveling to new places near and far. Liz lives in Woodley Park.