Christ's Light shines in the Darkness
Last week we celebrated Pentecost and we welcomed the Holy Spirit into our lives…the Holy Spirit is here with us until Christ comes again...we celebrated the birth of the church - the Christian assembly - "ekklesia". The greek word "ekklesia" means a gathering of citizens called out (ek) from their homes into some public place, an assembly …
These past two days, about 500 people in the Metro Chicago Synod of the ELCA were "called out" to assemble in Rosemont. The purpose of the Assembly is to meet, learn, discuss, and vote on resolutions, leadership elections, and ministries of the synod and ELCA.
The formal meetings of the Assembly occur in the daytime…however, some informal gatherings occur in the night…in the dark. Last night I was at a gathering of the African American Ministry where Bishop Phaswana dropped by just as I was leaving. Bishop Phaswana is visiting from our Companion Synod in the Central Diocese of ELC in Southern Africa. The Companion Synod relationship exists for the purpose of strengthening one another for life and mission within the body of Christ. As I was leaving, even though he had just arrived at the gathering, Bishop Phaswana was concerned for my safety in the night. He and two other friends offered to walk me to the parking garage so that I might be safe. As I drove home, I thought about today's Gospel story and wondered how Nicodemus felt that night that he came to Jesus. He must have had a compelling reason to go out into the darkness to seek Jesus.
Western culture has taught us that, when we think of "night" or anything dark, it must connote something negative: crime, danger, magic, secrecy, ghosts, evil, and death. We learn to fear the dark. However we must remember that the same God who created and keeps the day is the same God who created and keeps the night. And who are we to say that God cannot work wonders under the cover of night? We have learned from the Bible that, under the cover of night, God works amazing things; things that are Transforming and Liberating.
Under the cover of night, the Israelites prepared for their Exodus from Egypt.
Under the cover of night, the Israelites felt God's abiding presence in the wilderness.
Under the cover of night, Joseph is warned to flee with his young wife and child into Egypt, to escape Herod's search for the Joseph's child, Jesus.
Under the cover of night, God moved heaven and earth to raise our Lord Jesus from the grip of death.
…And in the history of this land, God transforms and liberates under the cover of night.
Under the cover of night, on June 6 1944, the Allied Force Troops landed by air and aligned themselves strategically with amphibious troops for the surprise attack on the Normandy coast.
Under the cover of night, in December 1955, word spread like wildfire about the late-day arrest of Rosa Parks, and people of all ages worked for days to organize a bus boycott that began the Civil Rights Movement.
Under the cover of night, The Night Ministry builds relationships with vulnerable youth and adults on the nighttime streets of Chicago. Through these relationships and the provision of housing, health, outreach, spiritual, and social services, The Night Ministry empowers people of all ages to meet their own needs.
Under the cover of night, Transformation and Liberation happen with God's guidance.
Under the cover of night, Nicodemus sought transformation and liberation when he asked Jesus "How can someone be born after living?" Are we much different from Nicodemus?
Yes, we are very much like Nicodemus…questioning in the stealth of the night... searching for the safety of the light. Yes, as we struggle to figure it all out, God gives us new birth, of water and the Spirit. God breathes life into us. God pushes us out into the world to publicly live in God's presence. Nothing that we can do or say will do what God can do for us to be born of water and spirit.
After this story, Nicodemus is mentioned two more times in the Bible – all in the Gospel of John. The second time he is present in the Pharisee's discussion of punishing Jesus for being guilty of being the Messiah. Nicodemus is a little more public in his support of Jesus before his fellow Pharisees. The final appearance of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John is in the burial scene of Jesus. After receiving permission from Pontius Pilate, he goes with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus' body for burial in the tomb. This time, his support of Jesus is done in public, in the light of day and with a very obvious load - he takes about 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes for the traditional Jewish death preparation.
Jesus is the Light that Nicodemus was seeking and yet, Nicodemus appears not to understand. Even though Nicodemus is not really convinced, Jesus still offers the invitation to him. For "God so loved the [whole] world, Nicodemus, that God gave God's only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life." This is the liberation Nicodemus was seeking…This is the transforming love that we have received at our Baptism. This is the liberating grace that many still seek…Many are still in the darkness, awaiting this good news.
In Baptism, our lives are filled with the light of Christ that burns brightly in us. We are called by God to go out into the world and share that Light with others...the Holy Spirit guides us to find our way in the darkness. Just as the light of a sunny day can lift our spirits, give us hope, and energize us, so can the love of God. In Jesus, every day is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Jesus is the antidote to the night…to the fear of the darkness. We are called to shine the light of Christ in the dark corners of the world.
Do you know the darkness? Do you fear the darkness?
Can you feel the Light of Christ burning brightly inside you?
How might you share the Light of Christ in the darkness of the world?
Thanks be to God for giving us God's only son to be our light.