Then Jesus was led up
by the Spirit
into the wilderness
by the devil.
He fasted forty days and forty nights,
he was famished.
The tempter came and said to him,
"If you are the Son of God,
command these stones
loaves of bread."
But Jesus answered:
"It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word
from the mouth
of God.’ "
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
saying to him,
"If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down;
for it is written,
"He will command his angels concerning you,'
and "On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' "
Jesus said to him,
"Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world
and their splendor;
and he said to him,
"All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
Jesus said to him:
“Away with you, Satan!
for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”
Then the devil left him,
and suddenly angels came
and waited on him.
Before his “Temptation,” Jesus already had a story.
Matthew’ Gospel tells us that though his family tree contains some… “sketchy” or “questionable” characters,
that Jesus’ actual birth was really pretty miraculous.
A star shone overhead.
Angels spoke and sang of God’s glory.
Little baby Jesus was payed tribute to and honored by great sages, and by gritty shepherds, alike,
and according to some paintings,
even by the animals,
gathered all around him, in his holy glow, right?
It was awesome!
Glorious… miraculous, mysterious… These are some of the other words that come to mind when we think of Christmas, of Christ’s birth:
of the Little Town of Bethlehem
on that O Holy Night.
Of course as Lutheran followers of Jesus,
we also acknowledge the scandal of it all.
Or maybe, rather, the “surprise,” right?
(We’re to “real” to leave it all-sappy, all-the-time).
It is commonly remembered here always, also, that the scene
wasn’t all halos and holy glows (right?):
that the Son of God,
that God the Son was not beheld
in the beauty of the city center,
he was not worshipped by kings or queens,
(though they feared him).
We remember that
there was no baby-shower live tweeted or televised.
There was no announcement the next week
in the Bridgeport News.
We remember that no celebrities
or people of import came to his crib.
None of them!
It was only the wise
and the poor.
It was only the wise and the poor.
Glorious, miraculous, mysterious…
Draped in heavenly song…
When it all came down, though, by the time Jesus was a young adult,
all of that stuff had been forgotten.
And a lot of stuff had happened.
Soon after the visit from the magi, the ruler of the land, Herod, ordered that all children under two years of age be killed by his soldiers and his security forces.
They obeyed Herod.
Jesus’ family did not.
They fled to Egypt—
the land that had once enslaved their ancestors.
Egypt welcomed Mary and Joseph across the border because they were under threat.
They were refugees. Seeking refuge. Egypt received them.
And so Jesus’ family made a home in Egypt for years.
Perhaps Joseph continued to work as a carpenter.
Perhaps it was hard for him to find work.
Perhaps he learned the language.
Perhaps he didn’t.
Maybe Jesus had to translate for his parents.
But they got by. As best they could.
They got by
until they got news
that it was safe for them to return home,
and so they decided that they would.
They’d go home
to set up shop in the old neighborhood once again.
When they got near to home, however,
they found out that their news was a little… “off.”
They had been just slightly misinformed.
Herod was gone.
This was true.
But it turned out that Herod’s son now ruled in their hometown.
The son of the guy who had wanted to kill Jesus when Jesus was a baby!
This, of course, made Joseph a little nervous.
So although he and his family returned to their country, and to their region,
they decided it was best to move to a new neighborhood,
just to be safer.
Just to be away from potential persecution.
So they moved
to a town
with the hope that there they could begin again.
And there, again, they were welcomed by strangers.
Jesus had been praised in his youth.
in this “miracle baby”
all the adults had put all their hope,
onto him they had projected all of their desires.
But he also had been born displaced,
and lived his first years as a refugee under the threat of Herod and Caesar,
rulers of Rome and its territories,
who in the Spirit of Extreme Vetting had labeled him as a “threat” because wise sages
from Iraq and Iran had gone to visit him in his infancy.
Before his “Temptation,” before his wilderness, Jesus had a story.
And it was far from being full of happy endings.
In the story before the Temptation,
we read about Jesus’ baptism.
What a thing it must have been for Jesus to be baptized.
To come up out of the water, to feel the Spirt and her warm embrace.
To hear the Voice of God, say after decades of pain
“You are my Son.”
“You are my Child.”
“You are Beloved.”
What an experience.
What an experience to feel that we are called,
that we are loved,
and that we belong.
Before his “Temptation,” in the wilderness, Jesus had a story.
Jesus story was a story of danger, of miracles, of refuge.
It was a story of Jesus being loved by his perceived “enemies.”
(Welcomed, even as his government literally tried to kill him).
It was a story of neighbors of other-faiths welcoming him in as if he was one of their own, and giving him sanctuary in which to grow up and to grow.
Greek, Jew, Samaritan… in times of persecution, they put those divisions away.
In shared times of pain, they sought healing together…
Before he preached, Jesus had a message.
Because before he was tempted,
Jesus had a story.
He had received his message, his story, through the acts of Love given to him by those who cared for him when life was at its lowest:
When he was hungry, and sick, when he was hiding, and forsaken, he was cared for, he was literally saved by strangers.
No wonder he would come to preach
“Love your enemy,” “Welcome the stranger,” “Feed the hungry,” and give to anyone in need.
No wonder he would come to preach “God’s Reign is near,” “The last shall be first,” and God lifts up those who are pressed down.
No wonder he told stories of Good Samaritans who helped beaten men and women lying on the side of the road, saying that they were the spitting image of God’s love.
This is what he believed. This is what he had felt.
And this is also what he deeply desired for himself and for all people.
More than bread, more than glory, more than “the kingdoms of the world,” with which Satan would tempt him…
More than all of that, Jesus desired the promise of deliverance proclaimed by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, the deliverer, the redeemer. Jesus desired that the story of God’s liberation and renewal, that story of God’s salvation, the word from the mouth of God, be the story of all people, everywhere, in every time.
He desired this, because before his “Temptation,”
in the wilderness,
Jesus had a story.
And because of his story,
when the Spirt came,
when the Voice spoke,
Jesus knew the mission to which he was called.
To teach, to heal, to preach,
To take his scars, and to turn them into empty tombs.
What’s your story?
To what are you called?