For the third time in a couple of months, we relive Jesus getting baptized by John in the Jordan. It’s a lovely scene, especially when the Spirit descends like a gentle dove on Jesus and a voice booms, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Beautiful moment, huh? Immediately, however, that same gentle Spirit DRIVES sopping wet Jesus out of the river and into the desert. The Spirit doesn’t usher Jesus, the Spirit doesn’t invite or guide Jesus; no, the Spirit DRIVES Jesus forcefully out into the wilderness.
I saw a sermon understandably entitled “Is Jesus Bipolar?”, written about this text. Well, most of us would be bipolar after being whipped around by this Spirit from glory to the utter privation of the desert. But Jesus handles it. He lives in that arid, inhospitable desert without food or water for forty days and forty nights. He endures temptation by none other than Satan, he hangs out with not too friendly “wild beasts’, and oh, “the angels waited on him.”
I’ve read this gospel many times and have never paid much attention to that part; I’m so busy thinking about poor, sunburned Jesus dying of hunger and starvation, fighting off wild beasts AND being tempted by Satan, that I lost track of those angels waiting on him. This gospel doesn’t say that Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by all the difficulty of this time in the desert but it does say that he had loving company in the form of angels.
I grew up in the Sonora Desert in Southern California. I remember days in the summer exceeding 120 degrees, when someone would always have to go fry an egg on the sidewalk. The average annual rainfall for Calexico, my hometown, is 3 inches. In Montesano, we can get close to that in a couple of hours. I used to dance around in my back yard, in what I thought looked like an Indian dance, whooping and hollering, shouting for rainfall. My ‘dance’ seldom met with success.
We grew up with a lot of respect for the dangers of the desert. It seemed that even the plants were full of stickers and inhospitable. I remember, as a small girl, crawling up to the top of a sand dune and coming face to face with a tarantula that seemed as big as my head. I did not love the desert then, I do not love the desert now. So Jesus stuck in the desert is always vivid and painful for me.
We have all officially entered the forty day desert of Lent now. You know, we may take on little challenges like abstaining from coffee, ice cream or alcohol, or try to exercise more often or not curse. These may seem like frivolous exercises but I see these small, daily challenges as very worthy of attention, very worthy ways to increase our focus on God. Perhaps by way of these small changes, we are also looking at addressing deeper issues within ourselves. I’ve always liked the introspection brought about during Lent.
Of course, there are also years where one’s whole life feels like Lent, full of suffering and grief and pain and during those times, we don’t need to introduce any additional spiritual discipline. During those years we need, more than ever, to remember that we have angels waiting on us.
The angels are with Jesus during his frightening wilderness experience and they are with us as we struggle through aging and pain, change and loneliness, as we struggle through our own wilderness experience. Our wilderness angels probably don’t have wings and white robes. Our angels show up unexpectedly; letting us go ahead of them in line at the store, slowing down so we can get on the road, asking us how we are feeling and caring about the answer, these are angels in our midst. And we mustn’t forget the amazing angels who show up to work on Pancake Day! We could not continue with this tradition without all of these angels.
So that Spirit who drove Jesus out into the wilderness and those angels who waited on him; they all stayed with him the whole time and then they brought him back, full of fire and spirit to begin his ministry.
The gospel says; “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus lived through this time of temptation and suffering to emerge as the powerful and almighty Jesus that we know. Jesus, who led his followers to God and still leads us today!
So here is my hope: during this time of Lent, as we wrestle with our own wild beasts, I hope and pray that each of you can feel the power and love of your own angels who accompany you through every step of your lives. May these angels give you strength to face your fears and trials. Let us all remember the angels waiting on us, hovering just above us, around us, always with us, bringing us the blessing and grace of God.