This week’s readings about temptation, one in a garden and the other in a desert, seem about as far away from Christmas as one can get. But I keep thinking about it, just the same.
My niece, who is five, is pretty much brilliant. The first time I met her, I instantly liked her. She invited me to play princesses almost immediately, and I’ve been totally smitten, ever since. She is my Stinky Sue. I can’t believe she’s almost six. Time flies. She was just barely four, the first time we met, and it makes my throat hurt a little bit to think about how much she’s grown up in such a short time. Stinky Sue is one of those little kids who is constantly offering running commentary on everything. It’s easy to tune it out, if you’re having a conversation with another grown up, or with her equally amazing brother Harry Blonder. But sometimes, sometimes, you had really better be paying attention. This is about one of those times, and how sometimes God just drops knowledge in amazing ways.
She was sitting in the seat in front of me, and I was in the way back. Her mom was driving, and my husband was riding shotgun. Harry Blonder was beside his sister. We were stopped at a light, on our way home from seeing the Christmas lights at the Zoo, along with every third person in the greater metropolitan area. They were beautiful. It was quiet, for a second, and out of now where, Stinky Sue comes out with this, “Hey, Mommy! It’s really important that we be joyful, no matter what, right?” My sister-in-law agreed with her, and told her how proud she was that Stinky Sue came up with that, on her own, and how she must have really been listening to Jesus. I couldn’t say anything, because I was mostly trying not to cry. In the lottery that is in-laws, I have seriously won the big prize. I married into a family that gets it—life, Jesus, love, mercy…a family that gets me, that really really loves each other and is raising incredible human beings.
Flash forward to my first reading of this Sunday’s lesson…and see me being stumped over what to say, how to talk about temptation without sounding like a moron. I am certainly not the first person to try to have something thoughtful or meaningful about Adam and Eve and The Fall or about Jesus’ being driven into the desert to be tempted. It’s kind of supposed to be a slam dunk. Right? It’s the whole lynchpin on which we hang Lenten discipline and self-denial, and guilt and shame…
And here’s where Stinky Sue saves her crazy Aunt Rachel’s bacon. I really think that her line about being joyful, no matter what, really resonates with me. I think it’s maybe the reason Adam and Eve fell prey to temptation, and Jesus didn’t…I mean, aside from the Christ part of Jesus giving him those super-natural Jesus powers. Adam and Eve forgot to be joyful, no matter what. In the moment of hearing about the latest new thing, about the promise of something beyond their reckoning, they forgot to be joyful for what was at the very tip of their noses. The terrible human fault of forgetfulness may be the real sin at the root of our story of the Fall. Adam and Eve, and we forget to be joyful in what we have, right at this moment. And when we forget to be joyful in this present moment, we are likely to believe the lie that if we eat this, or drink this, or put this hear, or hold this like that, we’ll be wiser and more beautiful and better. We forget that ten seconds ago, before we heard about this brand new tube of wonderful, we were pretty ok-fine with how our lives were going…we hadn’t thought about what we didn’t have. And we take a bite, and everything changes. And we remember, but the deed is done. And there is no going back.
But Jesus, our friend and our brother, our great advocate and the first born of creation, comes along, and manages to storm the very gates of Eden, simply by being joyful…of not forgetting, not for a second where he was, and what was around him. The Jesus we find in the desert this week has just stepped down from the Mount of Transfiguration. He has had The Mountain-Top Experience, like the real one. The Kingdom of God has come near. And somehow, he ends up in the desert—totally alone, hungry, and probably doing what my therapist would have called “some deep inner work”. Jesus is tempted, and that right mightily. And he is able to remember to be joyful. He confronts The Tempter with what he knows, what he remembers, in what he finds deep joy and meaning and identity. And Jesus wins.
Jesus wins by remembering, by being joyful, no matter that it is a fierce and ardent joy, and not the kind that leaves you shouting and clapping your hands. Jesus wins. And because shows us how to win, how to stay joyful in the present, no matter what, we can see a new way to try and win, knowing that Jesus will come alongside of us, to bear and be with us, even when joy is hard and remembering is painful. Jesus knows.
And that incredibly tiny and gorgeous blonde child who lights up a room knows a thing or two about how to stay right with life, too.
Thanks be to God.