There are some things we prefer to do at night. Watch telly. Sleep. Relate to our loved ones (even if he is just a cat).
Nighttime is also for doing those things we want to keep hidden, things we would like to keep secret.
Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night. It’s often said he came by night because as a leader of the Jews it would have been politically embarrassing for him to have an interest in Jesus. He came in secret. The next step in this reasoning is to ask whether there have been times when we have found it embarrassing to be associated with Jesus. I can remember being like that in my youth.
But there is another explanation as to why John tells us Nicodemus came by night: John carefully constructed his gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In his gospel he presents Jesus to us as the light of the world. Nicodemus and the temple leadership, and the Jewish people, were still in the dark as to this truth. So at nighttime this leader of the Jews was coming towards the light. John wants us his readers to know that in coming to Jesus, we are also coming to the light, the Light of the world.
Nicodemus came with a question for Jesus: I've heard about you, he said, and so has everyone. I don't want to challenge your credentials, but - what's really going on with you?
Jesus sees that this man is looking for something more than what he already knows. Nicodemus had seen the signs Jesus had done, what we usually think of as miracles. Nicodemus says he knows from these signs that Jesus has come from God, and that God is with him. But Nicodemus was still in the dark about what the signs were pointing to. The next level of meaning was still hidden from him.
John is letting us know that faith attracted by miracles is a beginning faith, but it is still an incomplete faith. For John, miracles need to be understood as signs pointing to something greater.
Jesus sees and welcomes this budding faith of Nicodemus. That fact alone is very significant for all of us who are seekers - Jesus does not reject our stuttering attempts to know him, even if we have only come because of the miracles, or the music, or the preaching, or our friends.
And so Jesus gives a gift to Nicodemus, a revelation, a gift for us as hearers of this gospel. Jesus says: the way to have it all, to get on the inside of this God-thing, is to receive it from God. You cannot ultimately figure it out for yourself. To enter the kingdom of God, you have to be born from above. Here John has Jesus use words in Greek that can mean either 'born from above' or 'born again.’
It is unfortunate that so much emphasis has at times been placed on being born again. It is unfortunate because it suggests that it is all down to us, that it is something we will have worked out for ourselves. Like Nicodemus, we can only exclaim that it is impossible for us to re-enter the womb and be born again.
What does being born from above mean? It means that God is the revealer of the hidden truths of God. God opens our eyes and our mind. To be born from above is to let God come into our space and surprise us.
The kingdom Jesus came to establish calls us to abandon the security and comfort we have made for ourselves. We are being drawn into a way of life where we hear a different language. It is a language filled with words about peace, forgiveness, and responsibility. We eat different food: the bread of life and the cup of salvation. We see life from a new perspective: dying and rising becomes the pattern of our existence before God. The positive replaces the negative in our new birth. We join in the way of the cross in ways that transform the ways of the world.
We live in a time called postmodernism. Postmodern people are skeptical about what used to be taken for granted. We no longer trust experts, or politicians, or religious leaders like people used to. Now each person makes up their own mind about what to believe or not believe. We no longer want to live in the real world where there are limited resources, and where for us to have is to deprive someone else of having. Instead we want to live in the perfect world created by advertising and celebrity life. In doing so we have become slaves to it.
To come to Jesus in our own time, to be born from above, is to discover the real from the fictional, to have our eyes opened to what is eternally true. If we are to be certain about anything, it will have to come from God, because we have overthrown everything else.
Jesus has come and told us that there is something real, his kingdom. People seem to know that there are external reference points, even though we try to live as if there are none. Both children and adults know what is fair or unfair. Where do such ideas come from? Jesus knew they come from God, and he proclaims it.
To be born again we re-enter the womb of God’s love, we have a second chance to live, a second opportunity to discover we were made in God’s image and to live its reality.
I've told this story before, but I think it is worth re-telling. It is the story of a three year old girl whose newborn baby brother had just been brought home from the hospital. She asked her parents if she might be allowed to be alone with him in his bedroom with the door shut. Her parents were uneasy about this. But there was a baby monitor in the bedroom, so they agreed. They heard their daughter's footsteps go in and approach the cot, and then they heard her say to her three day old baby brother: "Tell me about God - I've almost forgotten."
Being ‘born again’ was not a formula for Jesus. He only told one person in the Bible that he had to be born again. Jesus had different challenges for other people. To the rich ruler he said, "Go sell all you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me." The apostle Paul had to be knocked off his feet by a blinding light. Simon Peter simply started following Jesus and didn't figure out what it all meant until the end. Others Jesus laid his hands on and healed them, and they rose up with new eyes and a new life. All were born from above.
The bible is a book about being born from above. The book is not an end in itself. Coming face to face with God is. Just as Nicodemus came from his position in darkness and into the presence of the one who is light, we have come to the light this morning. It is calling us into that greater light where we see God face to face.