If you had to pick one [and only one!] verse that would sum up the heart of the gospel message, there are lots of good contenders, I think: Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord [Rom 8:38, paraphrase]; For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son…[John 3:16]—you get the idea. However, this season of Advent, I am going with John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
One of the best parts of the season of Advent is that it gives Christians a chance to reflect on, and give thanks for—the salvific ramifications of Jesus’ incarnation, instead of focusing exclusively on the crucifixion and resurrection, as we tend to do most of the rest of the year. Indeed, in some Christian theologies you get the idea that the whole life of Jesus is nothing but a footnote: what really counts is that he died—that he lived [and the kind of life he lived] is almost irrelevant! But Jesus’ incarnation reminds us that the very fact of Jesus’ coming into the world changes everything, and his birth brings with it the unquenchable, unstoppable, unending power of God’s light—light that is bright enough and powerful enough to drive away even the deepest, most menacing powers of darkness we can imagine. Jesus’ birth means that we are not alone, we are never alone; and we are never left to face the dark forces of evil and sin all by ourselves. The powers of depression, loneliness, grief, violence and victimization are strong, to be sure, but because of the incarnation, they do not, they cannot, they will not win the day. Not now, not ever: the incarnation is the promise and guarantee of that.
Whatever darkness we experience—whatever hell, whatever isolation—Christ’s light shines there and Christ abides there, walking with us, guiding us to safety. This is salvation right here and now. We don’t have to wait to experience Christ’s saving power until after our death; instead, it undergirds our every move, our every moment, enlightening our past, present and future with the clear light of God’s love and grace.