This week in worship, on our Advent journey to Bethlehem we enter wilderness places. Now, we might imagine favorite hiking, camping, fishing, hunting spots. We might remember feeling the stress release, the euphoria of beauty, a sense of awe and wonder and freedom and even “home” in some of the places which come to mind.
And that’s not quite what Bible writers had in mind. In scripture, the wilderness is not the ideal of one’s dreams. The wilderness is the antithesis—unfamiliar and uninhabited. Barren desert, wild forest, dangerous city streets. Sights disorienting and sounds disquieting. It’s a place of uncertainty, fear, struggle, life threatened not life thriving.
More than just a physical place, of course, the wilderness can be a mental and emotional and relational experience we face anywhere. Maybe we’re in the wilderness because of choices we’ve made and consequences that came. Maybe we’re in the wilderness because of forces beyond our control. Maybe we’re in a wilderness of estrangement from beloved family or friends. Maybe we’re in a wilderness of personal illness, or concern about society, or frustration with meaningful work.
Come to think of it, the wilderness can seem like a big place; popping up everywhere. And here’s the good news. Time and again in scripture, God comes to people precisely in the wilderness. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” John the Baptizer claims. Now for some people, John’s words were challenging and disconcerting. For people to whom he wrote, these words heralded comfort, hope, promise of new life to come. They are words first spoken by Isaiah to Israelite exiles in the wilderness of Babylonian captivity and slavery. They are words heard by gospel writers steeped in Hebrew scripture, which brought comfort and hope as they connected them with Jesus Christ—“the Word made flesh”. They are words God wants us to hear and calls us to pass along, as John did, in the wilderness places of our lives and world, preparing people to know Holy Love in Jesus.
When we hear the promise of Divine Love for us and give our hearts to Sacred Purpose, we find our voice. Out of our wilderness experience we can cry out so others will hear in their wilderness place. How have you heard a comforting word of God’s promise and presence in your wilderness experience? How are you still listening, longing to hear a good word in the silence of a lonely or lost place in life? How might you speak love, compassion, encouragement to others with what you say or do or your simple presence bringing a moment of grace?
Jesus was born into a wilderness place. Not a glitzy store or glamorous gathering around town. Not a beautifully decorated home to a family with perfect pedigree. Not into the halls of power or palaces of athletic achievement. Jesus was born in a rough dilapidated barn, in a disregarded village, in an insignificant corner of the Empire. Imagine the cattle and sheep and chickens making room for the Holy One to come to a poor unwed couple, in unacceptable circumstances, amid wild men like shepherds and foreign strangers to bear witness.
Despite all our imperfection; amid whatever struggles, uncertainty, fear, regret, longing we feel; into a world which can seem so life threatening … just maybe that means God in Christ can come to you and me, too.
In the wilderness comes Divine Love. Listen to the promise of forgiveness, of hope. And raise up your voice, so others might hear.
Grace and Peace,