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Nick at Night

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ROMANS 8:12-17

JOHN 3:1-16

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,2 who came to Jesus by night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.' 3Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. 4Nicodemus said, 'How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?' 5Jesus replied: In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; 6what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above. 8The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. 9'How is that possible?' asked Nicodemus. 10Jesus replied, 'You are the Teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things! 11'In all truth I tell you, we speak only about what we know and witness only to what we have seen and yet you people reject our evidence. 12If you do not believe me when I speak to you about earthly things, how will you believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things? 13No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of man; 14as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up 15so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 16For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.1

My wife, Susan, and I are sometimes insomniacs. Translation, we sometimes get up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep, we turn on the TV. When it's me awake in the living room, I usually have the news on or the replay of a hockey game. My wife however prefers "Nick at Night", a channel that has reruns of situation comedies from 20 or 30 years ago, "Happy Days", "Mary Tyler Moore", "Sanford & Son".

Last year a friend of mine who pastors a Disciples of Christ congregation asked if I would come and preach one night during their revival week. He asked if I would preach on being 'born again' and use John 3:1-16 as my text. I was excited about this unexpected invitation and shared the news with my wife. She immediately suggested that I title my sermon, "Nick at Night".

Now I thought this was silly at the time but never of course told her that. When I told her recently that I would be preaching again on this text, she once more suggested "Nick at Night" as an appropriate title. You can sometimes fool my wife once, but not two times in one year on the same subject. No, that's not going to happen.

So here we go with "Nick at Night" brought to you by cable TV, a Lebanese wife's insistence, and the Gospel of John.

Nicodemus does indeed come to Jesus by night. John tells us that very plainly. But why did he come at night? Much has been made of this phrase 'at night'. John allows us to wonder and muse and generally make fools of ourselves as we attempt to get into the mind of Nick. The truth is we don't know why. But we do know something about the night.

The night for John, Nicodemus, Jesus and us is the same as for all humans in all times and all places. Night is many things for us as it must have been for Nick and Jesus and John. It is a time of rest, angst, worry, fear, pleasure, prayer, darkness, terror, insomnia and dreams. It is these things and many more feelings and emotions. Later, Jesus will be arrested at night and in the first few verses of his Gospel, John tells us:

4What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; 5and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.2

John's Gospel in many places offers the night and the contrasting light to us. Night is a daily occurrence for all of us. I once lived 30 miles above the artic circle in Kotzebue, Alaska. It was night there for several weeks during the winter. The night there was overpowering and depressing and sometimes beautiful as the 'northern lights' danced through the clear cold darkness.

The night is no stranger but it is often a mystery. Nick's nighttime visit to Jesus is a bit of a mystery too. Some say he was afraid to be seen with Jesus in the light of day. Some say he was ashamed to be seen with Jesus. Some say this and some say that.

For a moment let's suppose that John, through this story of Nick's visit at night, is suggesting to us that we too can approach Jesus at night, as we rest, and angst, and we pleasure, and pray, and sit in we feel terror, and can't sleep, and even in our dreams.

What good news, that it is possible for us to approach the light while it is still dark. What good news, that at a time when it is hard to see, we can be born again and even see the kingdom of God.

Beloved, the time you spend here at Day-By-Day may at times seem like night. You may be frightened or worried or unable to sleep. But know this, it is OK for us to approach Jesus at night. It is OK for us to approach Jesus with our fear, with our worry, and even with our sleeplessness.

Go in peace and pray for all those who live in continuous darkness and who have lost their freedom to addiction.


1The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985. Includes indexes. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y.

2The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985. Includes indexes. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y.

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