Fourth Sunday of Epiphany – January 28, 2018
John 3:1-21 and Psalm 139:13-18
The city darkness is very different from the hillside darkness. The country has a quiet dusk that melds into deeper shadows and finally, after a long stretch of time, becomes the dark in which the stars are the only light. But in the city, the darkness comes as if some giant curtain was suddenly pulled tight, blocking out all illumination. It was in that extreme darkness that Ely slowly made his way home through the maze of Jerusalem’s streets. He had played too long and was too far from his home. There was certain to be a consequence, his father would not be happy. And how was he even going to find his way home in this darkness?
Ely turned onto cobbled streets that he thought were familiar, sometimes feeling his way along walls that he expected to end in doorways. All of a sudden, at one turn he saw a flicker of light coming toward him. It was light from a lamp held in the hand of a very large man. Ely crouched in a doorway and silently watched as the lamplight approached. The man walked with great care, he too seemed unsure in the darkness or… was he trying to be discreet as possible? Ely held his breath as the man, within arms reach, walked slowly by.
When the man had gone perhaps twenty paces further, he hesitated a moment, and then very softly knocked upon a near door. Immediately the door was opened, casting light upon the nighttime visitor. Enough light shone to reveal the quality of robe he wore. “He must be a scribe,” Ely thought, “a scribe from the temple.” The man crossed the doorway and the door shut quickly. Ely continued on his journey. But he would surely remember this night, observing such a giant of a man and his very elegant robes.
Nicodemus would also remember that night. John’s gospel tells us of this nighttime visit to Jesus. His visit gives us insight into a way in which Jesus shapes our faith. Nicodemus’ sneaky meeting with Jesus has some important messages:
One message is that there is no age limit for learning deeper messages about life. Nor does status have anything to do with it. Nicodemus was a “ruler of the people,” a man of good standing in that community. We assume he was also a man of some years, some maturity. Yet, something was brewing in his mind and heart, and that something took him to Jesus in that evening hour.
Nicodemus, the Pharisee was searching for the truth. He had the opportunity to interact and learn from Jesus Himself. He chose to do this skulking away in the dark of night, away from the prying eyes of others. Although he acknowledged Jesus was the Messiah, his faith was wavering. He made the choice to seek out Jesus but he also made the choice to keep his beliefs quiet. Even though Nicodemus spoke with Jesus himself, the light he had experienced didn’t make anything easier. He had a hard time understanding what Jesus was trying to teach him. Like Nicodemus, we all have choices to make. How do we each move from darkness into light, as we go from one life circumstance to the next?
Fast forward briefly to the next chapter of John, chapter 4. The Samaritan woman at the well is also seeking direction and guidance from Jesus but in comparison she is vastly different from Nicodemus. He is male, she is female; he is from the inner circle of Jews, she is an outsider; he meets Jesus in the dark of night and she meets Jesus at the lightest time of the day, right at noon. The progression from John 3 to John 4 is from dark to light and from inside to outside. One is obviously not better than the other, by any stretch. The main thing is that our faith journey goes outward, as do the lives of Jesus’ disciples. One example of this type of movement hopefully took place by nineteen of us going to Mexico. And yes, we brought light to the two families who now have good housing. But I thoroughly believe that we too, all grew from the experience and received ‘the light’.
Someone I know is a great fan of Thomas Kinkade, who was also known as the “painter of light.” His work is very uplifting and quite spiritual and it is often displayed on Hallmark cards. Perhaps you even have one of his prints at home. Curiously enough, he wrote John 3:16 at the bottom of one particular print. On researching him, it became clear that he became a devoted Christian in his early adult life when he was looking for “vision and purpose.” He ultimately believed light generated hope, and light was the underlying theme in all his work.
Despite his faith in Christ, Thomas Kinkade had demons, as we all do. His dark times involved alcoholism and debauchery. Eventually he and his wife separated. Two years later, while he was living with another woman, his light went out. Thomas Kinkade passed away from an overdose of alcohol and drugs. He was 54 years old.
Like Nicodemus and Thomas Kinkade, each of us has choices to make. When life throws challenges at us or indeed …temptations, we are each given the chance to respond. As with Jesus working patiently in Nicodemus’ life, our lives might also be shaped by the Spirit of Christ. Although we have the gift of God’s Grace and God’s Word, God is the one who calls us to freedom, and we “get” to be new people, through God’s loving grace. Whom do we follow, whom do we believe? How do we remain in the light? It truly is all by God’s grace that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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