The Wilderness

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” -Luke 3.1-6

The wilderness is not just barren but dangerous. It is where voices echo in emptiness, journeys seem unending, unfamiliar sounds startle; where you are glad for the company of others. There faith is tested and grace is best appreciated. The wilderness is where few choose to go. The wilderness is where God will be found. This is not the wilderness of Ontario or Palestine: it is the wilderness of the heart.

God’s word from John the Baptist is “prepare.” Prepare for God’s daily advent in your life. Plan to listen for the voice of the Holy, map a journey of grace and faith, where life is the wildest and most untamed.

That is where God will be travelling. Not through the lush gardens or fertile fields or wealth-strewn streets: through the wilderness. Not through the comfortable places of worship or the malls or the corridors of political power: through the wilderness. Not only through the joys and delights of life, but through the emptiness that needs filling, the dimness that needs light, the sorrow that needs peace.

Who hears a voice crying in the wilderness? Only the people who know what it is like to live there. People who have needed grace and know grace. People who have been cared for in the wilderness. People whose hearts are open to God’s coming to take them to the wilderness of others. People who hear the echoes of emptiness in the lives of others, and go to them and invite them to open up their hearts to God’s coming.

There are people who are more vulnerable at this time of year, even people who do not observe Christmas. They are troubled during December because we burden this season with the expectation of peace, of having all the comforts of home. Wounds hurt more deeply. Losses are harder to forget or ignore. What is missing in life comes into focus.

The mall makes no room for sadness or preoccupation. Sometimes churches are no place for sadness or preoccupation. The sad and preoccupied live in the wilderness.

It may be a holy place, if you are there with them. The wilderness becomes a holy place where new birth might begin because you listen for a voice crying in the wilderness, listen to someone who finds peace in your listening.