It’s difficult to wait for something you want very badly. Time drags, you can’t concentrate on other things. This was the place the Jews of Jesus’s time were in. They had promises that there would be a king to come of the house of David. They had high hopes that the king would bring in a new golden age such as in David’s time, but the waiting was long. Of course Jesus did arrive. He lived, he died, he rose again and ascended into heaven. We now are in a waiting time until he returns.
In the service on Sunday 26 February (First Sunday of Lent) the readings were Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-end, and Mark 1:9-15. My reflection follows:
As a child I was a very poor traveller. I always felt car sick and hated journeys. In the summer my parents would take me to the seaside, often to join other local families for a day out. I always looked forward to getting there because we would have fun but those few miles (about 25) seemed so very long! I’m not sure if I was one of those children who constantly whines: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ but I do remember my mother would show me at a particular point on the journey that we could see the sea. It was hard to tell the difference between sea and sky at that point, just a slightly darker blue at the bottom of the gap between the hills, but I believed her. We would drive down to a lower point and lose sight of the sea but when it next appeared it was more definite, closer, more exciting. The end of the journey was in sight!
Even as adults we find waiting difficult. If we’re expecting an important letter we watch the time, expecting to see the postman or to hear the sound of mail through the letterbox. We may not actually give this watching and listening all our attention but it’s there, preventing us fully engaging in whatever else we’re doing. If we expect a visitor we will also watch the clock as the promised time approaches. We may be alert for the sound of a car slowing down outside or a car door slamming. We may rush to the phone in case it’s our visitor ringing to say they are lost or delayed. We don’t settle easily to do anything else. Our attention is on the future, not on the present.
The Jews found themselves in a similar position in the time of Jesus; though they were living their daily lives, their attention was on the future and the arrival of a king. They had covenants with God, promises which he had made from long ago. The first was made with Noah after the flood, in which God promised not to destroy all life again. Covenants made with Abraham and Moses had depended on obedience which had not always worked well. Nevertheless, God also made a covenant with David that a member of his royal house would be the godly king of Israel, bringing peace and prosperity as in David’s time. Even though the people continued to disobey God, so much so that he sent them into exile as a punishment, God had promised through Jeremiah that he would forgive them. Other prophets had indicated the signs to look out for which would let them know the time of the fulfilment of the promise was near.
Micah and Isaiah had pointed to a messenger sent ahead, a voice in the wilderness. Those who were watching the signs of the times would have noticed that John the Baptist looked like Elijah, who was due to return before the king came. John had an exciting message: another was coming after him, far more powerful than him, and the people were to prepare by being baptised.
When Jesus came and was baptised, the voice spoke in a way which reminded the people of the promise. God called Jesus ‘My son’ and this is what God had spoken to his chosen king in Psalm 2, one who would rule all the nations of the earth. The voice also told Jesus how precious he was in God’s sight, one whom God had chosen and was delighted with. This part comes from Isaiah’s servant songs. God states there that he would give his Spirit to his chosen one to equip him to bring justice to the world. What the Jews were not expecting was that this chosen one would suffer horribly in order to fulfil his task.
Peter, in his letter, tells his readers that Jesus’ baptism was prefigured by Noah escaping death in the flood waters by being safe in the ark. What we see after Jesus’ baptism reminds us of a later story, the escape of the people ofIsraelfrom slavery inEgyptinto the Promised Land. They passed through the waters of theRed Sea, thus escaping from Pharaoh and his troops. After that they wandered in the desert for forty years. After passing through the waters of baptism, Jesus also wandered in the desert, but for forty days. During their wandering, the people ofIsraelfailed time after time to do as God asked them to do. They moaned, they made a golden calf, they rejected God’s plan for them to cross into the Promised Land. Jesus however did not give in to temptation but triumphed over it.
Filled with the Spirit, having defeated Satan, Jesus returned to civilization with the news everyone had been waiting for. The waiting was over, the time which had dragged on and on was over. Finally God was doing as he had promised and returning to rule through his appointed king. For some the news was too good to be true, for some Jesus simply didn’t fit their expectations, but for those who believed Jesus’ message there was just one thing they needed to do: repent, turn around, live God’s way in God’s kingdom.
We live in another waiting time, the time before Christ appears once again. We could allow our attention to be taken up with looking for the signs of his coming, listening for his footsteps at the door. Plenty of people do that and then we hear of the dates they have calculated for Jesus’ return going by with nothing happening. Instead, we have work to do as God’s kingdom is to grow through us. Jesus said that when he returned he expected to see his servants (us) faithfully carrying out our tasks.
At this time of Lent we have an opportunity to think where we need to repent, turn around, live God’s way more authentically. In that way God can work through us to reach more people with the good news, in RL and in SL.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor