It is now Lent. At its most basic Lent is a time of preparation, not unlike Advent is as we prepare for Christmas; but with more of an inward focus of self improvement.
Advent is about making room for the Christ child to be born, to bring new life... It is a time for us to make room for the incarnation, it is about recognizing that God is with us, and born again within us…
Lent is the other end of the spectrum…. If God is within us, and with us… then we really do have to accept that we make a lot of mistakes.
So now we have 40 days to think about it. Five weeks to look deep within ourselves in order to see how we are living our Christian faith.
Call it the long hard look at how we are doing…
And this year, we are starting with Noah… well, actually, we are starting at the end of the whole “second chance” story, after Noah has saved his faithful family, and all of the animals and birds, and the rainbow has come out and the water has receded….
We all know that the flood story was about how we never listen to God, and so we were given a second chance… well, God has established a covenant with us, God is going to be faithful, and right now, as we enter Lent, it is a time for us to ask, how are we doing on our side?
With The Kids, the story of the Rainbow and God’s Promises
You may have noticed I am making the connection between making promises and Lenten preparation.
It is a theme running throughout our scriptures, from Noah, through Jesus, and into the future church. Paul, when he wrote after Jesus death knew the power of the promises we made, he knew that we were called to be faithful people, and he knew that God’s mission is fulfilled through us.
I know Lent is a hard sell in a secular culture. I have been struggling with how to present it all week… We no longer Fast as part of our regular religious life, we don’t eat fish on Fridays, we are a people who really are not used to going without, and we certainly think we can solve all our own problems, we do not pray to God to solve our life for us very often…
So what is it all about – what if I said it was simply taking 40 days to get in touch with the real you?
Lent was always meant to be a time when we strip away the things that focus us outwardly, and look at the things deep down, in our own hearts and minds… Our own pain, our own struggles, our own needs, and wants… when we do that, the tradition teaches us, we find not only ourselves, but our purpose…
That Whole Jesus in the Desert Thing
Today's Gospel reading is all about Jesus preparing himself.
As Christians, we spend a lot of time talking about Jesus' birth and Jesus' ministry but we spend very little time talking about what happens between the time that Jesus is a child and when he becomes a roving preacher/miracle worker/all around good guy.
But there is a transition that he makes and Mark captures it very succinctly here in these few verses.
Jesus prepares himself for the journey he is about to embark upon – the journey of his ministry.
Before he lifts a finger to help anyone or lets a single word cross his lips to teach anything, he does what he has to do to prepare.
Step one, he gets baptized. In doing this, he makes a commitment to do God's work.
Commitments are a good place to start when one is preparing for something important.
Step two, he spends some time alone in the desert. This is the time when Jesus is said to be tempted by the Devil. He allowed himself to go into those deep dark places that we often keep hidden. While in the desert, he no doubt spent time reflecting on his life and, therefore, had to deal with his own demons, his own stuff. And he cleansed not just his mind but his body too by fasting and enduring the desert conditions.
Step three, he made some plans. The minute he stepped out of his desert time, he announced to the world that he was here and his work seemed to follow in a flurry of footsteps from one dusty road to another, from tiny village to bustling marketplace. All the while he had a sense of purpose and sure-footedness. He obviously had put time into discerning his mission and plotting a loose course of action for himself.
So, Jesus prepared for the journey by making commitments, reflecting and planning.
And when it came down to the wire, it paid off. When the stressful situations hit Jesus in the face, he was able to deal with them gracefully and faithfully because he had spent that time preparing.
Nowhere will we see that more clearly than when we remember the circumstances of his death during Holy Week.
It when we spend time making commitments, dealing with our own personal stuff, and envisioning how our future might look.
It's a time when we try to follow the example that Jesus set. We do this so that when Easter arrives we can truly be renewed and live life attentively and with gusto. But we aren't just preparing for Easter; we're preparing for the rest of our lives.
So, I invite you to use the next six weeks to your benefit. How will you prepare?
Perhaps you want to consider taking on a certain spiritual practice that will help you do this
like praying more, giving more of your time to others, or fasting from junk food or the internet or television or carbon usage. Even if you don't make a specific commitment, I urge you to pay closer attention to your thoughts and to choose your actions wisely.
My promise to you is that if you do this, if you take the time to look within, your life will be more fulfilling. You will emerge from your desert time awake, aware and filled with purpose.