Earlier this evening I had the privilege of visiting some friends in the hospital to meet their new daughter, born earlier this morning. Holding a newborn is always an amazing thing. An hours old baby is the epitome of innocence.
As I held her, I was amazed at how fragile she felt. As someone who struggled [with my wife] to have a baby, I understand that this moment - this holding of a new baby - is never a guarantee. It is a wonderful thing to behold, and I always feel so much joy for my friends who get to experience it.
We need moments like this during Lent. In this season surrounded by the weight of sin, we need to be reminded of the joy of new life. We live in a violent, fallen world marked by death, and newborns give us a much needed respite from that world.
But the world is violent, and just as God is with us in the joys of new birth, he is also with us in the midst of violence, tragedy and death. Maryann Philbrook discussed violence against women in a recent Lenten reflection. Concerning the tragedies of the world, she said:
Lent is the time that the Church sets aside for us to remember and focus on these tragedies. We do this, not because God is absent in all of this, but because these tragedies are precisely where God is. God’s love for people extends beyond the worst that can possibly happen. Jesus came into the world to give people the ability to live in hope despite our tragic circumstances. Despite all the facts that I listed above, God is here with us. God is giving us hope to face the terrible situations and make something better out of them.If we lived in a rosy, perfect world we wouldn’t need Lent. If the only problems in our lives are who will organize the Parish Pot luck next week or where we’ll go on vacation next summer we would not need Lent. Lent is a time for us to look around us and look around the world at the serious problems. A time for us to understand the problems. A time for us to immerse ourselves in the problems. We have Lent to be depressed about the world.
As I walked out into the cold Indiana night, I thought of a baby born to a scared teenage girl over 2,000 years ago. God incarnate smuggled into this world as a small helpless child. This violent world would try to have its way with him, but the gates of hell would not prevail. In a few weeks I would erupt with joy at that thought, but tonight there is only sadness.
I live in a world broken by sin – my sin. Soon I would rejoice that I was saved from a tomb of my own making, but tonight I must consider my plight. Tonight I must confess my sin. Tonight I must pray for my soul. Tonight I must pray for the world.
A Prayer For the Third Day of Lent
Lord, we thank you for the gift of life. And we confess that we care little for lives other than our own. We claim to live and let live, because it insulates us from the troubles of this world. We confuse tabloid gossip for news of strife. We give money to others “better positioned” to help those in need, but really we pay to suppress the guilt we feel for our inaction.
We hate those in need, because they remind us that our problems are trivial.
But you are a good God. You do not forget the fatherless or the widow. You care for the orphans. You are present with those who suffer. Correct us when we charge you with apathy for the downtrodden. Remind us that we merely talk; we never act to end injustice.
Send your Holy Spirit to destroy our comfort, to remove the scales from our eyes, and to give us the strength to act as your agents of change in this world.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer
-Ben Reed, February 19, 2010
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
James 1:27 (NIV)