John 3:16-21 (NRSV)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
This scripture reminds us that Epiphany’s theme of the light of Christ shining through the darkness is not left behind as we enter the Lenten season. The first half of this passage is guided by verbs of God’s action and the people’s response: God loves and saves, sends and does not condemn, and the people believe, and not believing is outlined in negatives: if you believe you shall not perish and you shall not be condemned. Before you think to ask, does that mean non-belief leads to perishing and condemnation, the passage turns to light. The light comes into the world, and draws us out of our shadows. The dichotomies seem clearly drawn: we will not come into the light if we fear exposure; we will come into the light if we live by the truth of God. But the larger context matters: Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and receives the words Jesus speaks of love and light. After Jesus dies, Nicodemus prepares his dead body for burial. The verb root is the same, Nicodemus first came by night, now he comes during daylight to prepare his body for burial. Nicodemus will come out of the light when it matters, after the love of God he received in the words of Jesus grow strong enough in his heart to bear fruit.
We too find Jesus in our darkness, and we are drawn to his words of light. If it is to save ourselves from a negative, those words of promise are there. If it is to witness the light and love we have received from Jesus, there is no time limit for when the Word can bear fruit in us. Madeline L’Engle’s poem Epiphany mirrors Jesus’ call to come into the light: “Unclench your fists. Hold out your hands. Take mine. Let us hold each other. Thus is his Glory Manifest.”
Dear Jesus, for all the paths we find out of the darkness, for all those who help us come into the light, for all the hands we hold on the journey, for all the patience of God as we find our way, we give thanks. Amen.