God’s Invitation: On Light and Lightness

John 3:14-21

Now I know all the arguments for not equating darkness with ‘evil.’ I agree with them and I have carried my deep awareness with me as I write today. It’s just that these words from John speak of light and darkness, which I also understand as lightness and heaviness today. So forgive me if I go down a path which is not all that helpful… in the end I am trying to come to a place of receiving God’s intent for all of us, where God offers to take that which burdens, all that is heavy (as opposed to light)  away.  And I expect also invites us to be those who do the same in behalf of the world ‘God so loves…’

And there is this.  As I read again what I have written here, I am not certain how closely it aligns with the conversation about ‘light and darkness’ in this particular section of John’s Gospel.  The invitation into the light is, however, what I need to hear today.  I pray that these thoughts might also serve as such invitation to you as well…

God so loved the world that he gave…

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world…

Those who do what is true come to the light…

I saw it twice today at least.

Ones yearning for light.

The first was standing in the shade of a tent at a cemetery.  It is early spring here and in the shade things are still chilly.  A nine year old grandson sitting in the front row simply could not wait to get out of that dark place and into the sunshine again… no doubt yearning to step away from more than that physical darkness but also back into a place of ‘lightness’ which before a few days ago was untouched by the loss of a beloved one. If only for just a minute.

And a few hours later in a hospital room.  I sat down beside her and the first thing she said was that she heard it was a bright, sunny day.  She did not have access to a view of it herself as the room had been retrofitted for COVID patients and the window had been covered up as a result.  No doubt she, too, not unlike a nine year old boy at his grandmother’s graveside, was wanting a break from the darkness, the heaviness of her own now seemingly failing body and perhaps much more.

And I have seen it in myself as the losses have seemed to pile on especially in these last days, and I find myself wishing not only for ‘light’ but for a kind of ‘lightness’ that seems to have gone missing of late.

It seems to me that we naturally yearn for light, for lightness and all it means: life, new life, healing, hope…

It is into this very palpable yearning that today’s Gospel words are spoken.

  • Words about God’s boundless love for the world and the life that is promised.
  • Words about God’s intent — not for condemnation, but for salvation.
  • Words about light and darkness and about those who love darkness and those who eagerly come into the light.

Except it’s hard for me to see why anyone would naturally love darkness, at least as we hear about it now.

Unless one has something or many somethings of which they are ashamed. Or afraid…

And we all have those, I expect.  All of us.

At the same time?

Even with all of those, who among us doesn’t yearn for light?

The light and the lightness which come with today’s promises?

Who among us doesn’t want to stand still in the brightness of the grace and the hope that is promised today?

Like a nine year old boy just wanting to go climb a small pile of melting snow, free for just a few minutes of the seemingly too grown up needs to grapple with the death before him now.

Like an ailing old woman who only wanted a glimpse of sunshine today… a moment’s distraction, perhaps, from all that was feeling so heavy within her…

Like me and like you who have perhaps carried what is too heavy for far too long.  Yearning for light or lightness of a whole other kind.

The kind that God promises in love today. In love for you and all the world.

Indeed, this afternoon I paused between calls to talk to a friend. She’s a wise one, this one, and she told me I have to not keep looking at all that is hard.  That I need to train my eyes on light instead of darkness.  Or at least that is what I heard.  I heard sadness in her voice and maybe a tiny bit of worry as she heard me speak of yet another hard thing. Because the darkness, the heaviness becomes too much, it does. And we are not meant to stay there, not meant to bear it all alone.

So this is where I am stubbornly trying to stand today… in the promise of light or of lightness… as it comes to us now in beloved, familiar words.

Where with a boundless love, God takes the burden of all that is heavy.

And where God, somehow in the trusted voice of another, invited me to train my eyes on that for a while, instead of all that is so heavy now.

For this is the best there is for you and for me and for all who yearn for light. This is God’s promise and deepest hope for us. And maybe like a 9 year old boy I just need to step out into it for a little while… answering the yearnings of all of us for whom the light has been too long covered up.  Maybe…

I hope this mediation is at least a little helpful now.  It has been one of those weeks when I nearly didn’t write, unable to set aside the heaviness to hear these words of grace and promise.  And then I remembered a kid reaching for the sunshine, an old woman yearning for it. And I realize this is God’s intent for us even now… Light or ‘lightness’ at least. And that embedded in the words of John’s Gospel today is an invitation to step into it, remembering God’s great love for all the world. And for you. For each one of you.

  • I struggle with coming up with new ways to speak of light and darkness which do not in any way denigrate the dark, at least not as ‘darkness’ is associated with the melanin of the vast majority of God’s beloved. And so I have tried to speak here of ‘lightness’ instead of just ‘light.’  Does that help at all? Does that bring clarity to the intent of these words in a way that speaks in today’s world?
  • How do you find yourself yearning for ‘lightness’ now? Do you hear the promises of the 3rd chapter of John as invitation to you? And don’t they also speak to Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night just before these words and to the woman at the well who comes just after, meeting Jesus in the glaring noon day sun?
  • I cannot imagine why anyone would not yearn for ‘light’ or ‘lightness.’ Unless they/we have long grown so accustomed to the dark that we can imagine nothing else, or because we feel as though the darkness somehow is cover for something.  But don’t today’s promises about God’s intent of life and salvation invite us all into the ‘light, ‘to lay down the heaviness? At least this is where I find myself landing today.

 

14 comments

  1. Katherine Clarke says:

    I’m taking away your phrase: “train your eyes on the light.” To remind me. Yes there is suffering but our lives are not meant for suffering. We are more than our sufferings and life is often about moving forward from them toward the light ahead. Day by day. Moment by moment. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. Linda Birchall says:

    I needed this today, Janet. It touched me. As we come up on the one year anniversary of lockdown, aloneness, and even despair, I need to find the rays of light. You are one, even when you may be standing in darkness yourself. I stand with you, in hope, in search of light, and in the sure knowledge that Christ, indeed, is the light of the world. Thank you for these thoughts. They are a blessing. May you feel that blessing as well.

  3. Raye Stone says:

    Dear Pastor Janet,
    After reading your message this evening, I felt God calling me to hold you up in prayer. Please know that I am praying for you! And I know that you have prayed for me!
    Sincerely,
    Raye

  4. Linda Ewen says:

    Janet,
    Thank you for these reflections. I have struggled with the light and darkness terminology for years, due to the continued struggle with racism in our country. I appreciate your use of lightness and heaviness. This is a concept that I can preach. Thank you for giving words to the heaviness in my heart. I lift you in prayer today and will keep you on my list. We all need support through prayer, sometimes more than others.

  5. Beth Olson says:

    Not sure yet which way I’m going for the message this week, but after reading your column, I’m struck by the irony that this passage falls on “Spring Forward” weekend—lighter later in the evening. With you and millions, I’ve had enough of heavy things, and the chance for lifted hearts and spirits engenders hope, even as we know heaviness will continue. Peace and strength.

    • Janet Hunt says:

      As always, Beth, thank you for engaging in the conversation with me. Peace and strength to you as well as your share God’s gifts with your people. May those very gifts return to you over and over again.

  6. Steve Boorsma says:

    I do think “train your eyes …” is important … and take for a moment that training our eyes has greater importance than “light” or “darkness” … I understand the desire to avoid referring to darkness as evil, because it is the right thing to do. To not avoid that, suggests that there is not beauty at night nor evil in light. Sometimes a word is just a word – but the meaning of the word is different. An over simplification … were it not for darkness, we would not see the beauty of the night sky – and the beauty of the darkness looks different than the Chicago night sky verses the beauty of the darkness of the Broken Bow Nebraska night sky …

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