I grew up in a small, private school, which means there was no mistaking whose family I was a part of. I had four siblings who had gone before me, three brothers and one sister who all told me who was the best teacher to have in each grade and what classes I should take. Inevitably at some point in the school year, I would get a comment from a teacher that I was “just like my brother” or “just like my sister.”
I can remember distinctly as I was looking at colleges wanting to cross every college my siblings had been to off my list because you get to a point where you just want to be your own person not such and such’s brother or sister. It didn’t happen that way. I chose Furman where my grandfather, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, and two of my brothers attended because sometimes even when we want to step out, we have to acknowledge that there’s a reason we are like our brothers or our sister, because we actually are.
Our passage today is part of the readings in the lectionary for The Presentation of the Lord in which Jesus is presented in the temple 40 days after his birth. Now, it might seem odd in our baptist tradition that we would even mention this holiday or feast day called Candlemas, but this is significant because it has been 40 days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus. 40 days, the same number of days that the people of God wandered in the desert. 40 days, the same number of days that it rained while Noah was on the ark. 40 days, the same number of days that Jesus will be tempted by the Deceiver in the desert. 40 days, a signal that of a time of trial and tribulation.
What have your last 40 days been like?
Not only is the number of days significant here, but the fact that Jesus was indeed presented in the temple, something that Jewish families would have done regardless of whether their child was the son of God or not. This is a tradition and ritual that reminds us of the very humanity of Jesus. The fact that Jesus as a baby did the things that babies did at that time. Jesus was like us.
Hear now this reminder of Jesus’s humanity from the book of Hebrews chapter 2, verse 14.
2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.
2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
I don’t know about you, but this week, I needed to be reminded that Jesus suffered just like his brothers and sisters that is to say you and me. I needed to mark this 40 day journey passed the birth of Jesus in which we all celebrated with hopeful hearts with this reminder that although Jesus was born with angelic declarations, he also suffered whispers and plots of death from the political leader of the time. He and his family had to flee for safety because of these whispered plans. I needed to be reminded that Jesus wasn’t born into a time where there was a guarantee of safety, comfort, or ease.
Jesus was born like us.
The problem is that so many of us have accepted the truth that we’ve heard somewhere or another that life is supposed to be easy. That for some reason or another if we are suffering than we are doing something wrong, not living the way we are supposed to be living or living for ourselves and not for Jesus. Somewhere we have picked up on the idea that to be a follower of Jesus means to be blessed without trials and tribulations, but our understanding of being blessed is to have an easy comfortable life.
I can’t find that in God’s word. What I find is this reminder that the son of God came and walked the earth as a child, as a teacher, and as a messiah and in all of those things there was suffering. There was suffering of being persecuted with words and ostracized by religious leaders. There was suffering and temptation in the desert hungry, tired, and thirsty. There was suffering from the weight of responsibility of teaching and leading. There was suffering in betrayal of his closest confidants, his disciples.
There was suffering in all aspects of Jesus’ life, so then to be a follower of Christ is not to be without pain and suffering. But I’m not talking about the pain and suffering that we share in our community of faith during a time of prayer. I am talking about the pain and suffering that finds you in the night. The pain and suffering that crucifies you, leaving you only able to cry as Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” If you are suffering right now, it does not, absolutely does not mean that you are not following Christ. In fact, if you are suffering, it might mean you are closer to walking in Jesus’ footsteps than you have ever been before.
It took my until two years after I had graduated college and I was in an apartment in Germany alone depending on the hospitality of strangers that I realized even though I was like my brothers and sisters, I didn’t have to follow in their footsteps or in the footsteps of my parents or in the footsteps of the community of faith who raised me and who believed that women shouldn’t be preachers. It took me being across an ocean alone to realize that all the times that I followed in my family’s footsteps, believing wholeheartedly that that is what I was supposed to do, I was missing an opportunity to be who God created me to be.
When I stepped out of that path of certainty and stepped into the wilderness that God was calling me to, I truly didn’t think there would be a community of faith who would want me to preach or walk beside them in their suffering and in their pain and also in their joy and hope because the path was so very foreign to me. But here we are trying to be Christ followers together.
I’ve lived my whole life in fear…fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of disappointing my family, my community of faith, my friends. Fear of falling outside the will of God, this mystical concept that I couldn’t ever seem to grab hold of, but others saw so clearly. Fear of alienation. Fear of being alone. Is this where you are? Do you feel like you are wandering a foreign lonely path? Fear brings death not life. In order to live, we must let fear die.
God is with you, just as God was with God’s son as he walked and ministered, stopping on his journey to see people in need and meet those needs. You are not alone for Creator God sent God’s son to this earth to share flesh and blood, trials and temptations, pain and suffering, hopes and fears, with you. Creator God sent God’s son to earth to free you from the temptation of believing you are not good enough, you are not strong enough, you are not smart enough. You have the freedom of a new path, not one that is absent of suffering, but one that follows in the footsteps of Jesus who knows that very suffering and can offer you the strength you need on this journey.
This is the word of the Lord.