From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. But he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:1-12)
John the Baptist appears in the wilderness. How he got there is up to much speculation. Folklore has it that when King Herod ordered all the young baby boys under two years old to be killed Elizabeth took John and hid in the wilderness. Zechariah apparently was killed at the Temple because he refused to give the location of his family. Again this is all legend. We have no way of knowing what actually happens to John’s parents, but we know the angel Gabriel instructs them to raise him as a Nazarene, one who vows to be set apart for God, (Numbers 6:1-12). From childhood John must have practiced a disciplined life, actively focused and attentive to the call of God. What sort of man is John the Baptist? He is most likely an enigmatic figure. The scriptures say he comes “neither eating or drinking,” so he is not overtly social and seems to attract people merely by his presence and preaching. He doesn’t perform miracles like Jesus. John’s mission is to prepare the way for Jesus, and, as such, he is remembered as no other in history. Yet, even John faces challenges both during his preparing and waiting in the wilderness and in his calling to mission.
The wilderness motif is apt for Advent because the difficulty of waiting may feel like a rough wilderness. But it harbors an invitation to reflect on the wilderness motif as one in which John was prepared to be Christ’s forerunner. Americans live in a culture of excess. We are conditioned to think that more is better. and extravagance is fulfilling. John offers the possibility that seasons and spaces of austerity can redirect our focus to the things of God if we choose to take advantage of such opportunities. How is John’s spirituality shaped by his time in the wilderness? Does wilderness living allow him to endure the necessary sacrifices and trials of his ministry? Does his experiences of God’s provision and care sustain him when life proves taxing? John must be a man of extraordinary character and integrity.
If we envision our current period of waiting on God as a sort of wilderness, what might be the strengths and graces we could cultivate to prepare for the promised season? How can we embrace waiting as an invitation to live by faith and to grow in gratitude for God’s patience with us and God’s perfect timing?
Abiding Lord, you call us to prepare a way for you even as you prepare a way for us. Grant us foresight to pray for the strength, courage, and wisdom we will need in this season. Amen.