A Song For Advent: Writing ‘The One True Light’
In The Crowded House, Sheffield this time last year, we had an advent series on the first 18 verses of John's gospel. It drew on Tim Chester's advent book “The One True Light”. We wrote a song of the same name to accompany the series of talks, to help these truths take root in our hearts.
For this song, the words preceded the music. I spent a whole day in October curled up next to a heater, digging into John 1 and Tim's illuminating prose. As I read, I noted down things that really struck me. When I'd finished the book I had a few pages bursting with jaw-dropping truths about Jesus being born as a human. It was these that became the song “The One True Light”.
VERSE 1: LIFE (John 1:1-4)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life...
Tim explores in his first five chapters the incredible truth that this birth was not Jesus' beginning, but that he himself was the one who created everything – the origin and source of all life. This time-bending reality finds expression in the song in the first verse in particular:
“In Him was life before the dawn of all created light,
Life's uncreated author...”
This baby lying in Bethlehem's dust and darkness is the one who “spoke the dust to life and darkness into day” at the beginning of human history.
But this truth is too big to keep to just one verse! I wanted it to be an idea that pounded right through the song, so it's also repeated in the chorus line “See the one with no beginning at his birth”. For me, this captures something of the inside-out mystery of the incarnation, and leads us into the standing amazed wonder of the next line.
VERSE 2: LIGHT (John 1:5, 9-11, 14)
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John then moves on to describe how Jesus is not only life, but also light. When God speaks in the beginning, at creation, light is born. And now, God's Word made flesh is born. Because the light of God is Jesus. God's piercing, illuminating truth is Jesus himself.
“In Him the light of all the world spills down from heaven's throne,
God's glory in a manger, the unseen God made known”
Tim asks us in chapter 17 to imagine God's glory as it pours into Jesus like water into a pot, overflowing out from him into the world around. In this verse I imagined it pouring direct from heaven itself into the manger.
“This Morning Star will recreate until the blackest night
Then conquer ancient darkness with resurrection light.”
Tim explains how the Word has not come this time to create, but to recreate – to restore the sick, to calm the waves, and fill the hungry. But he also explains that there was a moment “when darkness overcame the light” at the cross. This is the “blackest night” referred to at the end of verse 2. But John tells us “The darkness has not overcome it”; through Jesus' death and resurrection, he has “conquered ancient darkness”. This leads us again into the chorus to worship as we stand at the manger and wonder at all this baby has come to do.
VERSE 3: LOVE (John 1:12-13, 18)
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
In chapters 11 and 12, Tim dwells on our rebirth into the family of God, into the midst of the very love of the Trinity. In chapters 21-24 he marvels at the closest relationship of love in existence and how we are included in it through Jesus. He reflects on how the welcome of God's embrace can transform our behaviour, relationships, fears, prayers and future.
“You draw us in, O Light of all, to join in your delight,
Your radiant flood of welcome, which makes us sons of light.
Replace our jaded apathy with hope that shines anew,
A beacon in the darkness that points the way to you”
Tim concludes each chapter with a meditation and a prayer from other sources, which is a great way to help us dwell on what we have read, and to connect our worship with that of the saints who have gone before us. This third line of this verse draws strongly on the prayer Tim quotes from the Venerable Bede at the end of chapter 6, “O Christ, our Morning Star...come and waken us from the greyness of our apathy, and renew in us your gift of hope.”
In chapter 16 Tim (via John Owen) encourages us to behold this Word-become-flesh, and to gaze on his glory. It is this idea that I have tried to capture in the chorus of the song:
“Come and worship at the manger, behold the one true Light,
See the One with no beginning at his birth;
As we stand amazed, glory fills our gaze;
Come and praise as heaven dawns upon the earth.”
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that it is as we “behold the glory of the Lord” that we are “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory”. As we gaze together on him, we become, as his people, “a beacon in the darkness” that points back to Jesus, the source of life, light and love.
Tim concludes his book with chapter 24, a wonderful gathering together of the details of Jesus' portrait that he has explored throughout the book. It makes a glorious whole! Jesus truly is the “altogether lovely” one, and Tim's book has encouraged us to dwell more on him. We hope that this song too will help people to stand amazed as they gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ.