“Within The Wilderness”
December 5, 2021
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.”
The human family has endured much since the advent of the pandemic in early 2020. In many ways, last year seemed like a wilderness sojourn. Since then, thanks to the outstanding achievements of research and medical science, vaccines have provided us a way out of some of the wilderness. Opportunities to gather with others and move again with some level of safety has been a blessing long awaited.
One area of eager interest to many Americans since the availability of vaccines is travel. Veterans of the travel industry predict that an outcome of pandemic imposed limitations will lead to a growth in adventure travel. This type of travel involves more remote destinations, national parks, and wilderness areas.
Destination Analysts, a tourism research and marketing firm, indicates that more than half of American travelers say they once the bulk of restriction have eased, they plan to avoid crowded destinations and the typical touristed areas. Tour vendors report that bookings reflect travelers seeking more remote destinations with outdoor experiences far exceeding mass-tourism resorts and packed tourist sites.
Today’s reading for the second Sunday of Advent introduces us to an adventure traveler of sorts who appreciated the wilderness. John the Baptist is probably the originator of travel away from the tourist sites and the hustle and bustle of cities.
Thus, Luke introduces us to John today in the wilderness.
Everyone can share a story about the wilderness. I am not referring to the awesome beauty of nature or the refreshing weekend up north under the stars at a quaint cabin. The wilderness of which I am speaking is not geographic. Rather, it is the landscape within us, an interior wilderness. Our wilderness stories are the ones of feeling lost, alone, overwhelmed; stories of struggle, frustration, falling down and wondering when, how, or even if we will get up again.
We aren’t told how John landed in the wilderness. But you know in life sometimes we go to the wilderness, other times it comes to us. There is no quick fix or way around the wilderness. One must go through it. That’s what John knows and proclaims in today’s gospel. Before him it was Isaiah crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
The wilderness is not without its assets. This is the place where lives can be transformed, the point when we are most open to changing and being changed. Throughout my ministry, the people I saw change and go in a new direction were people who had gone through the wilderness. Perhaps this is because the wilderness has a way of making us face the truth. In the wilderness there is no place to hide.
The greatest asset is this: hidden within every wilderness is the beauty of divine presence. That’s why every year at this time the season of Advent takes us not just to the wilderness, but to our wilderness. It is our preparation for the coming of the Christ.
I wrote last week “God always has a way of coming quietly.” God is always showing up, speaking, and acting in the wilderness places of our lives. This is our sacred story and it is the story of those who have gone before us with the word of God which:
· led the Israelites through the wilderness of slavery and bondage in Egypt.
· raised Lazarus from the wilderness of death.
· fed the 5000 in the wilderness of hunger and emptiness.
The Word of God and the wilderness always go together. I don’t believe the same is true in the domesticated places, the places of human of power and prestige, the distractions of the city.
Today’s reading clearly indicates that the word of God came in the wilderness. Not in the empire of Tiberius, the governing of Pontius Pilate, the ruling of Herod, or the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. It came in the wilderness. That was true for John the Baptist and it is true for us, too.
Name any wilderness of your life and there will be a corresponding word of God.
In the wilderness of broken relationships, the word of God speaks reconciliation.
In the wilderness of self-doubt, the word of God speaks of being beloved.
In the wilderness of loss and sorrow, the word of God speaks healing and comfort.
In the wilderness of scarcity, the word of God speaks generosity and abundance.
In the wilderness of sin and guilt, the word of God speaks mercy and forgiveness.
In the wilderness of emptiness and barrenness the word of God speaks fullness and fruitfulness.
In the wilderness of death, the word of God speaks resurrection.
For every wilderness there comes the word of God because we are preceded by divine love. It is the presence of the Holy that sustains us in and carries us through the wilderness. It is not the final word but the first word, the creative word, the word that calls us to repent, to examine our lives, to turn around, to change our way of being, to see the world, one another, and ourselves in a reordered way. We go in a new direction (repent) not because we are bad, defective, or deficient, but because we are loved.
This is the start of our preparing the way of the Lord. It is in the reordering that paths are straightened, valleys filled and mountains leveled. Here it is that the crooked will be the straightened and the rough ways made smooth. We prepare the way of the Lord because we are loved and because of this love we shall see the salvation of God.