Over the last year we have been told over and over again that we are living in a wilderness created by the coronavirus.
Almost a year ago our churches were closed for public worship and we entered, what certainly felt like, a journey through the wilderness.
As with Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry we have often felt the loneliness of the wilderness.
It has also not taken much imagination to feel as though we have really been surrounded by wild beasts, whilst being tempted by the devil.
But … also like Jesus … angels have waited on us.
Whatever may have been going on over the last year, and whatever may happen in the year to come, God has given and will give us strength … if we are willing to wholeheartedly commit ourselves to him.
Mark’s gospel opens in a hurry. There is no lengthy introduction, no detailed genealogy … not even an account of a miraculous birth …
Mark takes us straight to the beginning of those three amazing years when Jesus taught and healed … when he worked miracles and told parables … when he revealed the glory and love of God through his own life and witness.
In just eight verses, Mark recounts the whole of Advent, and then, where we start our reading today, Jesus himself is baptized and we hear the voice of God saying: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
From this moment it makes no sense to question the power of Jesus;
from this moment we should surely be seeing justice rolling down like water, and righteousness flowing like an ever-flowing stream;
surely Caesar himself should be rushing to give his Imperial crown to Jesus.
But … of course … that is not what happened. Instead, the Spirit that had just descended like a dove, drove him into the wilderness.
For forty days Jesus was tempted by Satan …
surrounded by wild beasts …
and waited on by angels.
At the beginning of every Lent we are called to reflect on Jesus’ time in the wilderness as we reflect and repent, and as we seek spiritual renewal through the exercise of spiritual discipline.
So, here we are, in the wilderness … a place where pretence fades away … a place where honest vulnerability becomes possible.
In previous times I might talked about the stripping away of the public image of effortless perfection, but not this year.
At the beginning of this Lent we find ourselves having had a year’s practice at confronting the messy reality of our lives … in fact, we have had a year’s practice at resisting the temptation to forget the promises of God.
The wilderness is the place in which we live out our daily lives … the place between certainty and doubt … the place between hope and fear … the place between promises made and promises kept.
It was in the wilderness that Jesus found his voice and his vocation … the wilderness was, in reality, a point of beginning.
Almost a year ago we began a wilderness journey. For almost a year we have wandered through the desolation of medical crisis. We have been fearful … we have experienced doubt … we have been tempted to accept lies as truth.
All these months of wandering in the wilderness must have been punctuated by moments when we have wondered where God is!
Well … God is with us, just as he always has been.
The difference from the pre-Christian era is that we are offered the certainty of God’s presence through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Despite the fear and the uncertainty of those wilderness days, Jesus remained steadfast in his faith … and that steadfastness led him into an awareness of God’s angels waiting on him.
We are called to remain steadfast in our faith … then, we too, will know the comfort and consolation of God’s presence in our lives.
Whatever may be going on in the world around us, we need to remember that our lives have been touched by the presence of the Divine … that means that nothing will ever be the same again.
It is in that certainty that we should be travelling through Lent … rather than the confusion of human wisdom … or rather, human confusion, doubt and fear.
Let us rejoice in the certainty of the great Easter joy of the resurrection that lies at the end of this season of spiritual discipline.