In this Lenten series I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ “outstretched arms of love” toward all who followed him as disciples, seeking to emulate his life, self-sacrifice, and humble service to others. Today we will reflect on one distinct time and way Jesus stretched out his arms of love to all who beheld his glory, believed his message, belonged as his disciples, and sought to become more and more like his image and with more of their true identity in Christ Alone.
Read Genesis 3:19 and Luke 2:1-7
Today is Ash Wednesday, when in many Christian churches pilgrims gather to worship and repent of their sins, being reminded once more of their mortality. Typically, there is a time to come forward to have ashes placed on the forehead, often in the sign of the cross. The minister will recite one of two phrases, depending on the denominational setting. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” which is taken from Genesis 3:19 on the heels of Adam and Eve’s fall to the temptation of the enemy. Another option is “Repent and believe in the Gospel” from Mark 1:14, making explicit (repent and believe) what is implied (own your mortality and acknowledge your need to trust Christ for your salvation) in the first spoken words.
Either way, the words spoken from Scripture upon receiving the ashes are reminders of our mortality, and our corresponding need to repent of our sinfulness and submit to the truths of the Gospel. It’s a fitting way to enter Lent, as we usher in a season dedicated to the renewal of our souls. The ashes placed on foreheads are burned from the previous year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday worship. As we approach Holy Week and prepare our hearts for Easter, the symbolism of today is poignant.
We fast today in remembrance of our sinful mortality (from ashes to ashes, dust to dust), as we prepare our hearts for the feast of the Gospel of Easter and the hope of resurrection life for all eternity. We fast today in order to embrace the suffering our Lord assumed in our behalf by his immortality, his incarnation, and his infinite love for all.
When we turn to Luke 2, we are reminded of the miraculous and holy birth of our Lord Jesus. Here in the sawdust manger, the immortal One is born into this world as our Savior. Jesus’ new place in this world is all a part of God’s magnificent plan for our redemption. Because of Jesus’ arrival into actual time and space on planet earth, his Advent and Incarnation are gifts we treasure deeply. This dramatic symbol of God’s infinite love for his beloved children is representative of his willingness to become familiar with our status as human beings for a season. God became man…the infinite joined the finite…heaven came down to earth…and Jesus showed us the way home to the heart of God.
In the lowly manger, humbly born, Jesus was welcomed with the open arms of love from his mother Mary, father Joseph, and the entire universe now rejoices. Behold his dusty birthplace as you believe the Gospel once more. Know with certainty that you belong to the family of God, and become today a repentant mortal, fully aware of your sinfulness, and your desperate need for a hope-filled Savior.