During the Christmas season, many homes will be adorned with a decorated evergreen tree. This tradition began in Germany in the 18th century, where upper-class homes displayed a tannenbaum, or Christmas tree, occasionally decorated with candles. Candles were glued to tree branches with melted wax or attached by pins. In the late 19th century, candleholders began to be used for Christmas candles. But something happened during the Christmas season of 1879 that would change that tradition of candles lighting a Christmas tree.
In Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Edison, after finally inventing a lightbulb that would last, lit up his laboratory and a nearby street with lights. Newspapers called it the “Village of Light,” and over the next several days of late December, hundreds of people came to see the tiny globes bursting with light at the complex where Edison and his staff worked and lived.
Just a few years later, on December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of Edison Electric Light Company, had Christmas tree light bulbs made for him. He had the Christmas tree in his Fifth Avenue home in New York City hand-wired with incandescent bulbs the size of walnuts, in colors of red, white, and blue. Johnson became known as the “Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights.” But, as the lights were too expensive for the average person, Christmas tree lights did not become the replacement for candles until around 1930.
Light has played a role in Christmas traditions for centuries. The purpose of the light, whether provided by candles, incandescent bulbs, or LEDs, was (at least in the beginning) to signify the light of the One for whom Christmas is named—Jesus Christ. John 1:1-5 says this about Jesus:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus is the source of all creation. He is the divine Word of God, who was “with God in the beginning,” the “Word through whom all things were made.” He is the source of physical life and light. It is through the Word that God “speaks” the living world into existence and the first thing that He created was light:
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
Jesus is also the source of spiritual light and life. The Word that spoke physical life into existence is also the source of eternal life. It is only through belief in Jesus that we can receive that life. The Greek word translated as “life” in John 1 is zoe. It is the same word that Jesus used during the Last Supper when He said to His disciples:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus is not only the source of eternal life. He is eternal life and the only way for us to receive the gift of eternal life is through Him. He is the “light of all mankind.” Just as physical light helps us to see the world around us, the spiritual light that is Jesus helps us to see divine truth and reveals our sin. The light of Jesus penetrates the spiritual darkness around us and brings light to our hearts and our minds. The One who brought physical sight to the blind brings spiritual sight to all who believe in Him.
When His light shines in our lives, we can see our sin and His glory, and that light shows us the path that we should walk on as it drives away the darkness that surrounds us. But we need to accept that light. We have a choice. We can walk in the light of Christ or we can refuse to see the light and remain in darkness.
As we reflect on the Christmas lights on our homes and on our trees, may we be reminded of the birth of the “light of the world” this Christmas.