Sunday morning at church, we read the story of the birth of John the Baptist. His father, Zechariah, was a priest serving at times in the Temple in Jerusalem. By all accounts, John could and should have followed in his father’s footsteps. And yet, instead, John’s choice was a radically different ministry served in the wilderness.
Power and prestige are rarely found in the wilderness. One does not journey into the wilderness in order to reach the next step on the ladder of success. And yet, so often, it is in the wilderness that faithful women and men find their sense of identity and purpose. Abraham, Issac and Jacob all spend time in the wilderness. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness as they rediscovered God’s dream for their lives. The great prophet Elijah flees, for a time, into the wilderness to regroup. And of course, Jesus himself, upon being baptized by John in the river Jordan, proceeds into the wilderness for “40 days” to be tempted and to receive some clarification as to his own identity and life path.
Henri Nouwen once said that sometimes it is necessary to go far in order to come close. I think that’s why time spent in the wilderness is quite often time very well-spent. I think that John the Baptist knew that God shows up in powerful ways in the wilderness and in ways that cannot be replicated in other spaces.
So, may we all find some wilderness in our lives this week. May we find some spiritual space outside of our normal routines that are a bit dangerous in which to reside, at least for a time. My hunch is that, in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in these unsafe spaces, we will discover the utter faithfulness of our good and loving God.