Read Luke 2:25-32
Waiting can be a challenge for many of us. Anyone who has anticipated something tremendous to occur knows that you are often on edge. If our wait is prolonged, doubt can enter into one’s mind. A person may even become irritable because the waiting may seem unbearable. When the wait is over, a feeling of relief and joy sweeps over us.
The people of Israel had been waiting a long time for a savior, the Messiah. Some of them had given up hope, become upset, and maybe even fell away from their faith in God. One Hebrew man who remained faithful and did not waver from his belief that God would fulfill the promise of the Messiah was Simeon. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for consecration, Simeon knew the promise had been fulfilled. He offered a song of praise and thanks to God. In his song, he declared who this child was and what he would do for the world.
There are times when we have to wait for God to fulfill a promise. God’s timing seldom aligns with our own. God’s timing is perfect so waiting is often the norm for us. How we handle this wait reveals our nature. Do we become irritated, maybe even fall away from our faith? Or do we choose to respond as Simeon, remaining faithful and continuing to trust in God’s promise to be fulfilled?
Read Isaiah 61:1-3
We are in the midst of the holiday season. Our calendars fill up with parties and family gatherings. A question which arises in preparation for such events is, “What should we bring?” The answer depends on the purpose of the gathering, the number of people in attendance, and the needs of the host. Determining what one is to bring is important to prevent social embarrassment and/or missing elements for the celebration.
The passages from the Book of Isaiah are the most frequently referenced insights in regard to the promised Messiah. Today’s reading is one of these passages. It is viewed as one description of the role of the coming Messiah. The list of actions attributed to the Messiah seem to describe Jesus’s ministry. The list can be understood as telling us what the Lord is going to bring into our lives.
As we examine our lives, we can see when the Lord has fulfilled this list for us. These promises provide for us reassurance and hope. Whatever we may be experiencing, we hear this proclamation of good news. Jesus has brought exactly what we need to the party of life.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.
In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.
Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.
The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.
A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.
Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)
When a young person prepares to graduate from high school, the standard question he/she is asked relates to their future plans. At “senior night” of whatever extra curricular activities the individual participates in, when they are being introduced with their parents, their future plans are usually included in the introduction. For some determining future plans is relatively easy but others struggle in determining their plans. This will be the first time when they are making life altering plans. It will not be the last time of making such impactful plans though.
Jeremiah sends a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The purpose of the letter is to deliver a message from God. At the start of the message God instructs the people to live normally in whatever city into which they are exiled. Then God’s message shifts to their promised return to Judah and Jerusalem. God then tells them that they will be brought back to Judah when the appointed time arrives. God says that there are plans for them to prosper, have hope and a future. When the people seek God, God promises to be found.
This is a valuable message for anyone who is in the midst of working on plans to hear. Even before we start planning, God has already made plans for us. These plans are intended to assist us in being prosperous. God intends to bring hope and a meaningful future into our lives. If while we are doing our planning we seek the Lord, we are promised a successful search. Then God will actively be engaged in our planning. The plans which the Lord has for us can be integrated into our planning process.
God has plans for you. Are you including those plans into your own?
While winter in Texas is not as cold or stagnant as winter in Iowa, over half of the trees are without leaves, the grass turns brown, and the color of flowers is limited. With the approach of spring, all this changes. Over the last few weeks, we have seen significant change in the landscape. Trees are flowering and budding. The garden centers are stocked with flowers ready to be planted. The sun has increased in its warmth. Rains are helping green to reenter the grass and other plants. New life is arriving daily.
Currently in the Christian Church calendar, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is a time for personal reflection, recommitment to spiritual disciplines, and a time to await new life. The new life which becomes a reality is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which is a reminder of our mortality and forty days later (Sundays are not counted) we are reminded of the truth of new life we share with Christ.
I am sure that the correlation of the transition from winter to spring and Lent to Easter is not coincidence. Just as spring provides new life for God’s creation, Easter provides new life for God’s children. As a child of God, I anticipate the fulfillment of the resurrection in me as much as I anticipate the witnessing of new life during spring. I yearn for both of them. Every Easter I celebrate the truth of my new life while I watch the promise of new life in creation.
What does spring mean for you? How does Lent and Easter create anticipation for you? Where do you see God’s promises fulfilled around you?
May the promise of new life in Jesus Christ fill you with anticipation and great joy. May the witnessing of new life in creation be a present reminder of this promise for you.