So often we look down upon our world. It is easy to do. When we daily hear of the great suffering that is inflicted upon people all over the world, the killings, the massive poverty, the human rights violations, all of these events cast a dark shadow upon the world and upon our souls. Daily we peer into the darkness of the human condition that is being swallowed up in sin, both personal sin and structural sin. As we daily plunge into this darkness and abyss of evil, suffering and violence we sense that fear is growing within us. It seems like the darkness is growing and that there is no end to the cruelty that one person can inflict upon another. The more that we look into this darkness the more that the darkness begins to creep into our own souls.
Once in the desert Israel fell into this darkness. The Israelites were grumbling and murmuring against God and Moses and complaining about everything. Serpents were sent to bite the people and it seemed like the serpents were everywhere. People no longer looked up into the heavens but they now looked only on the ground, searching for where the next serpent would come. They began to believe that the whole world was full of serpents and that there was no escape from them. Then God instructed Moses to raise up a bronze serpent on a pole and everyone who looked upon the serpent raised up would be saved. The bronze serpent had no power in itself other than the ability to get the people to look up again to the heavens and to remember the tender love, mercy and providential care of God who had delivered them from Egypt and who would always be their salvation. This allowed them to escape from their darkness and fear and to find hope again in the Lord. Looking up to heaven and remembering God was a remedy for the serpent sickness that had fallen upon them. (Numbers 21,4-9)
In the gospel of John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Nicodemus is familiar with the darkness of his time. He lives in the darkness among others who are plotting the death of Jesus. You can sense that he is growing tired of the darkness and that he longs for the light. Nicodemus sees a light shining in Jesus, in the things that he is doing and saying, and he wants to be a part of that light. Nicodemus comes to the light of Jesus and seeks to learn more about the light that is emanating from Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3,14) Nicodemus must stop looking down upon the earth and upon the works of evil, hatred and fear that are part of the human condition and he must begin again to look up to the heavens and see the love of God revealed in the cross of Christ. It is the light of God’s love that will drive away the darkness and create a new day of hope.
This past week in a bible study on the prophets we were speaking about the current darkness that threatens our world in the Near East and Africa. One person asked, “What can we do here in Mira Mesa?” It was a good question. Often it seems like we are powerless against the growing forces of darkness in our world. If we spend enough time thinking about the serpents in the world and looking down at the ground we begin to think that all there is for us to do is to wait until we are bitten ourselves. We develop a fatalistic view of the world and life. God has an answer for us in his Word proclaimed in the Prologue to the Gospel of John, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1,4f) Too often we have forgotten about the power of the light of God’s Word, his love and the life in the Spirit to dispel the darkness of the world. What can we do? We can live the life of Christ. We can be a light shining in the darkness of the world. We can live our faith and witness to the love, grace, light, life and joy of our life in Christ Jesus. We can do what Moses did in the desert, we can lift up Christ Jesus in our world. We can place our lights on a lampstand for all to see and glorify God (Mt 5,14f). We need to stop slinking around in the darkness and hiding our faith and the light of our hope in Christ and we need to let our light shine out in splendor and glory. We need to share our faith with others. “But even if you should suffer because of righteousness blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear.” (1Pt 3,14ff) The world will pay attention to witnesses to the light, love and presence of God. “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (Jn 3,21)
Jesus was urging Nicodemus to quit hiding his faith in the dark of night and to come to the light of Christ and live as a witness to the great love of God. The “verdict” of our life is whether we choose light or choose darkness. “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” (Jn 3,19ff) We have to believe in the light of Christ and the light of God’s love and abiding presence in the world. We have to believe that God “so loves the world” and wants to save it. The darkness of terror and violence seems so real and strong to us but we have to remember that a single ray of light can dispel the darkness and many rays will drive the dark away and bring a new day of hope and peace. This Lent, let us resolve to be a shining light of faith, hope, joy and love in our world and to lift up Jesus in our life. Don’t hide your faith in darkness and shadow but allow it to cast light on all whom you encounter and who are searching for light in their lives. Don’t look down upon the world, look up to Christ.