“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not over come it.” John 1:5
The gospel writer John captures his vision of Christmas in this poetic verse. He offers the hopeful image of Jesus as a saving light, rescuing us from a threatening darkness. Matthew and Luke add dramatic stories to complete the familiar picture: the glorious light of the angels who direct the shepherds and the blazing light of the star that leads the wise men to the promised king, lying in a manger.
Christmas tradition comforts us with the triumph of light over darkness.
It is a binary construct—either light or darkness. This has been the way we have thought about John’s poetry and Christmas for a very long time. And yet, in spite of Jesus’ birth and the light he brought, so much of our world still lies in darkness. How do we understand this?
My perspective as a bisexual person has given me eyes for another way of seeing. It’s a both/and way. Let me see if I can explain what I see.
Before the advent of electricity, light came and went gradually. There is the slow coming of dawn or leaving at dusk. Light is on a spectrum and mostly we live in a middle place on it where light and darkness mix in a both/and way.
John’s declaration can also be understood from a both/and perspective on light. The darkness does not overcome the light—true—because the light mixes with the darkness to offer some light, enough light, sufficient to not be overtaken by darkness. In the pale mix of dawn or dusk, we can see enough to start our work or find our way home. This is a both/and way of grasping John.
This is what I, as a bisexual person, see in John’s Christmas image.
In the letter known as 1 Peter, the preacher offers counsel on Jesus’ return: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (1 Peter 1:19)
The “light shining in a dark place” captures the assurance of the glory of the Lord bursting forth above the shepherds, a more either/or way of seeing. At the same time, the image of the “morning star” helps us persevere in the day-to-day effort to love God and our neighbor in a still broken and fearful world. The day dawning is a more both/and blend of darkness and light. Both perspectives nourish our faith and keep us going.
I tend to assume that most people receive the Christmas story from the either/or point of view. That the light destroys the darkness is the lesson I absorbed from the Christmas sermons I’ve heard through the years. It’s a reassurance that heartens me at the darkest moments of my journey in life. At the same time, it’s problematic when an either/or judgment of good and bad overlays the binary of light and darkness. The enduring gift of bisexuality is that it looks beyond binaries, reminding us that love and value can be found at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
Dawn comes after 7 am on the days around Christmas where I live. I was driving with a friend to the gym on one of these early mornings recently. We were descending the hill where we live and the valley below us was bathed in the most beautiful light, a slanting, soft light. Darkness and light were present. Light persevered.
Though the darkness did not overcome, it was still subtly there. This was a Christmas dawn.
If a mix of darkness and light is not a familiar vision of Christmas for you, may you receive it as a gift from a both/and bisexual. And may it sustain you all year long.
Photo via flickr user jjjj56cp