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  • Jennifer Kelly

The Brave Grace of Lent: Week 2 // The Road Less Traveled


Ever since I can remember, I've always pictured the season of winter as the end. Like a good American girl, I fit the ordinance of God's creation on my calendar year.

Doesn’t everyone celebrate December with opening presents and watching the ball drop?

We trek through January with our goals and buy chocolate for those we love in February.


But it’s always been springtime that feels so new. The outside world is budding and blooming and fresh with all the green things. We clean and walk and smell the early March flowers. Lately, I've been in this re-orienting of my calendar to match more of a liturgical one.

There's seems to be a spiritual rhythm of time that helps me focus on my relationship with God. And it got me thinking, what if winter is the genesis of new beginnings?


The liturgical (Christian) calendar starts the year with Advent. It's this special time of observance that starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Funny, as I’m usually preparing to end the year with dinner parties and family celebrations, many of my fellow sister churches are beginning to enter a season of longing. In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached that "The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come." [1]


Advent is the four-week yearning to sit in the longing of hope that Christ is coming. That the Messiah will be born.

Darkness shrouds birth.

What if:

The season of winter ... is the dawning.

Maybe I had it upside-down this whole entire time. What if winter came first? The calling of love in the dark night of cold? Wasn't the world dark, formless, and empty while the Spirit of Lord hovered over it? (Genesis 1:1-3) Why do I assume winter as the finale and spring as the grand introduction? Perhaps keeping Christmas as the birthplace of time wouldn't be a bad place to start? Think of winter as a white canvas, bursting with the surprise of good news. Where the elements were created specifically to make you bear down and grow slow in the womb. Then, when the light of the sun finally starts to break through the dawn, there's nothing for you to do but to burst and sprout with tremendous growth.


It seems so fitting to have Lent in-between winter and spring.


The necessary journey of bearing our cross to follow Jesus. Ash Wednesday is the much-needed reminder that we are but dust … and to dust, we will return. [2] To recognize that the “The line between good and evil does not lie between “us” and “them,” between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual.” [3]


That Jesus didn’t just bear our sin on the cross, but our shame as well ... for the joy set before Him. He endured the cross and despised the shame. [4]


Lent beckons me to be honest about the state of myself. It crawls inside my chest and reminds me that something has to break. That my notion of following Jesus is not about my comfort, success, or the achievements I want for myself or my family. No, Lent reminds me that I am indeed a sinner. In desperate need of God to save me from myself. The journey of Lent asks me to redefine what it means to be successful, happy, or mildly content with my life.


Did Jesus truly mean that to follow Him requires denying ourselves and taking up our cross? If the season of Advent rushes in to help me long for a Savior … to provide something more for my troubled soul, then Lent takes me deeper. In the stillness of winter, I bring my sin and selfishness for Him to bear. I need to die a thousand winter deaths so that God can continue to form me into the image of His Son.


Manning wrote that “Self-mastery over every form of sin, selfishness, emotional dishonesty, and degraded love is the less-traveled road to Christian freedom. “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent desires and passions” (Gal. 5:24). [5]


Well crap. I read Manning and Galatians and feel defeated. But Jesus is so gracious. He gently lifts my face and reminds me that this is communal. That’s exactly the point of His good grace. Yes, I need to be willing to show up, to repent, to surrender, and to know that the only way I can have true and lasting change is through the Holy Spirit working inside of me.


“Misdeeds are ever at work within us—mind and yours. Together our sins collide in conflicts of all shapes and sizes. Misdeeds are stronger than we are. But when we come before God in silent expectation, we experience again that he is the One who is mighty to deliver us. We are delivered not by our own strength, but by his.” [6]


The Brave Grace of Lent is silent expectation of God's intervening.


If we stay on the journey of lent long and honest enough, then Easter truly does feel like the supernatural miracle it is. That sin and death could not hold Jesus in the grave, and it will not hold us either. That being raised to life again is possible through faith in Him alone.


I go back to Galatians 5 and re-read it in its correct context … that living by and in and through the Spirit of God is the only way we can bear our cross and walk the road less traveled.

I cry “increase my faith” Lord in my thousand winter deaths of Lent. The moment I step outside of His presence, I am ruined. Lent teaches me how to stay integrated and sow into a kind of life that pleases the Spirit of God. So that we will, “ ... not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” [7]


Lent whispers, "God is not yet done ... Easter is coming'.

Keep your eyes fixed on the cross.


So, this week two of the road less traveled, bear down friends. Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you. Become desperate for His grace and His love and His Spirit. Living as resurrection people requires tremendous trust in the God of the Universe that is continually making all things new.


Don't hold back.

Become foolish to those around you.

Fast.

Put your nose down in the pages of Scripture.

Pray.

Receive.


"... the conscious shaping of our patterns of behavior, takes place simply and solely within the framework of grace ... It is simply not the case that God does some of the work of our salvation and we have to do the rest. It is not the case that we begin by being justified by grace through faith and then have to go to work all by ourselves to complete the job by struggling, unaided, to live a holy life." [8]


You have the grace of God that reigns well beyond redemption to sustain and grow your faith.

Be brave. Walk the road less traveled. Allow Lent to help form you into a new creation.


 

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich & Robertson, Edwin (Translator & Editor) 2011. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. [2] Ecclesiastes 3:20. [3] Wright, N.T. 2022. On Earth as In Heaven: Daily Wisdom for 21st Century Christians. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. p 266. [4] Hebrews 12:2 [5] Manning, Brennan. 2003. A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. p 113. [6] McCracken, Sandra. 2021. Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song. B&H Publishing Group. Nashville, TN. p 81. [7] Galatians 6:8-9.

[8] Wright, N.T. 2022. On Earth as In Heaven: Daily Wisdom for 21st Century Christians. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. p 266.

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