Forty years on

So 2020 has arrived! It has a ring about it.  Soon we will remember – I nearly wrote ‘celebrate’ - our fortieth birthday! Maybe we will celebrate. But as things are now it will be muted. Many struggle just to survive. What image can we choose for this New Year? One that comes to mind is the Prodigal Son.

That young man came to an age where he felt entitled. He went to his father and said, ‘Now I am grown up.  I want what is due to me.’  His father gave him what he asked for and we know what he did; he went and spent it all and sank into destitution.

Then comes the high point of the story, the high point of the whole gospel. ‘He came to his senses’.  He wakes up. He sees a different world is possible – and he acts!  ‘I will get up and go to my father and say I have messed up and I am sorry’.

The father, incredibly respectful of his son’s independence, is looking out for his return and springs into action to prepare a welcome celebration.  He rises above any words of blame or judgement and allows full room for joy at his son’s return.  They begin to celebrate.

The son is now twice the person he was before.  He has sunk deep into the pit and come out of it.  He is now wise: his eyes are open and he sees life from a whole new angle.  He will now build a whole new life and will imitate the love and compassion of his father in his relations with others.  He is the new person Jesus came to call into being.

This simple parable, so easy to understand, so hard to apply, can be our fortieth birthday present.  The time has come for us to come to our senses.  I don’t say ‘for them to come to their senses’.  We cannot blame others.  We are all in this.  We have all messed up.  This is not just a soothing way of speaking.  We really have all messed up – each in our own way.

The good news is that we can become twice the society we vaguely hoped to be in 1980.  Now we are wiser, clearer, more responsible.  But we do have to get up and go.  We cannot leave it to others.  I think that is what Jesus is saying.  He wants to see a new community, a new society, but he is very clear that conversion has to be in each human heart.  It is an individual thing as well as something we do together.

Our ‘sin’ this past forty years is that we have waited for others to move.  We are good at waiting. But we can’t wait any longer.  The Israelites were forty years in the desert.  That was enough.  It had to end.  Maybe they were not ready for the promised land in the beginning when they first got free of Pharaoh.  They still had to be free of their own narrow vision and Moses had a hard time weaning them from it. But the time came when they entered the promised land, wiser, clearer and more responsible.  Even then they had a way to go …  So will we.

5 January 2020                        The Epiphany

Is 60:1-6                      Eph 3:2-6                     Matt 2: 1 -12

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