Have you heard that little fable about the fetal twins in the womb before birth? They are arguing about whether or not there’s a Mother. And whether or not there’s life about birth. Neither have seen Mother. Neither knows for sure if there’s life beyond the womb. But one of the twins has faith, while the other is a confirmed skeptic refusing to believe there’s any life beyond the womb. They argue to no avail. Both are eventually born, both must leave the womb’s darkness and follow the bright light of new life beyond. Mother really does exist. And the argument is entirely forgotten.
Mostly this fable is used to inspire our faith in the God we depend upon here in this world and in the heavenly light that lies beyond. Some believe. Some don’t. But our unresolved arguments will one day become a moot point.
Which is all fine except that I think this fable might inspire us in an even better way as we approach this new year of 2016. Ready or not, we have all left 2015 behind and are birthed into this unknown world of a new year. The darkness of December has given way to the slow pull of summer’s own equinox, but our first sense of this new place is often a cold, cruel world handing us circumstances beyond our control, a world that sometimes slaps us until we cry. A world where everybody sucks. Literally. No more umbilical cords. Yet, there’s no going back. We can now only hope for the best.
Personally I hope your new year has been a bit less dramatic and traumatic than all that. Perhaps your best surprises so far have been no surprises at all. Maybe you can already see and appreciate a brighter world in 2016 than you’ve ever known before. Either way, try to imagine this new year as if it is your new birth as well. As if it is the leaving behind of a kind of dark but warm and dependable place you’ve known but that is no more. As if it a way out of some place where you were once stuck, trapped, and unable to see the light.
In the 3rd chapter of John’s Gospel, we read of this conversation that Jesus has with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. It is in the dark of night that Nicodemus comes to have this conversation. Or so John describes the scene, which fits into the larger metaphor in chapters 1-2 of Jesus as the sign of God’s new Light sent into the world’s now darkness.
So in this story Nicodemus assumes the role of “now darkness” meeting up with Jesus as the “new Light.” The now and the new have a conversation in which the now is as skeptical as the unborn twin in that opening fable. The new picks up on this theme of Light after darkness and tells Nicodemus we cannot see the Kingdom of God unless we are newly born. We must be born again, this time in the Spirit of God while before we were born of the water of our mother’s womb. We must leave that darkness of now if we are to see the glory of God’s non-condemning, non-violent love that Jesus called God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom of heaven was coming to the world God so loves, as a Light to the darkness, but we wrongly prefer the darkness and resist the great Light. Much like the doubtful twin in the fable.
We don’t know how this conversation finally resolves, if at all. We don’t know how this argument between darkness and Light, now and new, Nicodemus and Jesus really turns out. In my own mind I believe Jesus had the better argument. That’s in the prefrontal cortex of my brain where our human mind’s logic prevails. Yet in the back of my mind, where memory prevails, I have to admit there are times when I also want to remain in the womb of my own darkness, my own comfort zone, my old dependencies and securities. Like Nicodemus, I want to hold onto my now and resist the new. I may be stuck or trapped but I’ve grown to kind of like my own comfortable rut. I’d rather stay asleep than have some potentially great awakening. And I’d rather not face the unknowns of a new birth or a new year. Truth be told, I’m often like Nicodemus in preferring the metaphorical dark of night to the new light of day.
So what about you? Are you tempted to ever stay with what you already know instead of believing in the unknown? Is there some umbilical cord in your own life you’re afraid to cut? Some dark, warm womb or comfort zone you’re afraid to leave? Ever wish you could crawl back into some easier or more dependable past? Ever want to just remain stuck with what is in your life?
Maybe we both need to listen to Jesus when it comes to this new year’s unknowns. Maybe we need to relax in the promise that God so loves us that He is not here to condemn us, control us, or win any arguments against us. Instead, the God who has come to us at Christmas offers us all the Light of a new birth, the opportunity of a new year.
And the faith that there really is life after birth. Like the unseen mother’s arms waiting to love us and not damn us, so God’s even greater love and Light calls us to be born again. Happy New Year!