On the first Sunday of Lent we heard how Jesus prepared for his active ministry by fasting in the desert for forty days and nights, and in a limited sense we try to replicate this desert experience in our own lives via our Lenten penances.
The desert is barren and sterile. There is no water, and hence there is no life. Yet throughout history men and women have escaped to the wilderness, to deserts, to mountains, in order to become closer to God. The harsh environment forced them to confront the fragility of human existence. They were forced to recognise and accept the complete sovereignty of God over their lives, and their utter dependence on his grace. In this recognition and acceptance they gained a certain sensitivity to the presence of God and his activity in their lives, and it is this awareness that we aim to foster by our Lenten devotions.
Yet we can hope for more than simply to endure the desert in the knowledge that God is with us. Isaiah prohesized that the ‘desert will rejoice and bloom’ (35:1). In the Gospel of John, Christ tells us that he has come in order that we may have life and life to the full (10:10), and he promised us living water that will well up to eternal life (4:10-14).
The love of God is fertile, it is generative, it is creative. Grace perfects our humanity, makes us more human, more alive. Grace brings life to the places where humanly speaking, there is only death and sterility. Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Annunciation. We celebrate the day when, by the grace of God, a virgin conceived. In nine months time we will celebrate the birth of this child. In a few weeks we will celebrate his resurrection. For today we are reminded that like the pregnant Mother of God, we bear the new life of Christ inside of us. It is a new life that has the power to transfigure us.