Summary: The light we have in Christ is a fading light; we are not assured that history as we know it will remain, and it may be nearing its end. Feel the urgency of following and using that light while we can.
A foursome on a golf course, in the late afternoon. It's getting late, and the sun is beginning to go down. Harder and harder to see the flags in the distance, more difficult to tell just where the fairway leaves off and the rough begins. They have two choices: either they can decide to call it a game, even though they are just now finishing the eighth hole: or they can hurry, hurry. They can play at a feverish pace and use the light while they have it, hoping to get it all done before the darkness makes it impossible to play on. Which do you think they would do? If it were you which would you do? Would you quit, saying, "Well, it's too dark to play." Or would you say, "Come on, let's get on with it; if we hurry we can finish this game."
Well, if it were me, I'd say let's play on, because for one thing, I don't play golf, and I am sure I would be doing so badly by the eighth hole that I'd prefer to play one hole in the dark!
But what would you do? I suspect most of you would say, "Hey, we can do it, we can make it, let's keep going. "We have enough light to do this before the darkness overtakes us."
But let's change the scene; let's try a new scenario. Now you are shoveling snow in the late afternoon or early evening – and that doesn't take much imagination to picture that, does it? You are shoveling snow, wearily lifting load after load and it's getting dark. What do you do? Again, you have two choices again, you can say, I am going to stay with this until it's done, I am going to stay out here, no matter what, as long as there is any light at all, and polish off every last bit of this abominable snow snuff; or you can say, hey, enough is enough. I'll bet it's going to snow some more tonight anyway.
I can't imagine anybody being crazy enough to walk out here tonight, besides. And I know there is a snow ordinance, but nobody will enforce it; they'll never notice Aspen Street all the way from Pasadena. I'll just leave it.
Two choices: finish the work while there is light, or leave it 'til a more convenient time? Which is it? Well, somehow the outcome is different now. The golf foursome hurries to stay with their game as long as there is light; but digging out of the snowdrifts we can leave, even though there is still a little light. There's a big difference, isn't there? I stood at the window a couple of times this week and watched some of my neighbors chipping away at their driveways – not the public sidewalk, by the way, but their driveways -- and said, "You fanatics" "You fanatics, I'll wait". I'll tackle this job in the morning. You see, when it involves responsibility and work and labor, we just naturally want to wait, we just naturally make excuses and say there isn’t enough light to do this job. We will give ourselves all kinds of leeway when we want to, when we choose to, but when responsibility is involved, we all too quickly conclude that there isn’t enough light to get the job done.
The Jesus who is pictured in John's Gospel, as I have mentioned during the last two weeks, is pictured as the light of the world. That much is well known, that much we readily understand. But what we have seldom seen is that Jesus presents himself as a fading light. A fading light. A light whom we will not have much longer. It's a striking image, this image of Jesus as the fading light, because we are not really accustomed to thinking of him that way. We like to ponder the stability of Jesus, the presence of Christ; we love scriptures that affirm that he is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We take comfort in the thought that our Christ will never fail us nor forsake us. And so it comes as a jarring note to realize that all through the Gospel of John Jesus is warning us that in some real sense he will not always be there, he will not always be at hand.
To the Pharisees and the chief priests on one occasion Jesus warned, "I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me; you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come". To his disciples, preparing them for his death and departure, he says, "Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more." The world will see me no more … but he does promise, "I will come to you …I will send you the Spirit and he will be with you." Still, the impression is of a Christ who is mysteriously withdrawing, leaving us behind. A fading light. And that image is nowhere more clear than in today's passage, the l2th chapter of John’s Gospel: "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; ... while you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of light."