Photo by Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

A voice of hope and promise in the wilderness

To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment, nonetheless. Even in the wilderness — especially in the wilderness — you shall love him.
― Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces

In our reading this week, in the opening lines of the Gospel of Mark, we hear afresh the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,” and the proclamation of John the Baptist, who stands as a harbinger, preparing “the way” of Jesus’ ministry. John is an arresting presence. Described as one dressed “in camel’s hair,” with a diet of “locusts and honey,” the Gospel goes out of its way to help us envision John as one acquainted with the desert. He is one who “appeared in the wilderness,” a preacher wandering the countryside, baptizing in the river and teaching on the hillsides. The Gospel, in fact, uses the word “wilderness” four times in the first twelve verses of Mark, signaling that somehow the “good news” of the Gospel is tied up with this word. When John’s Gospel news is proclaimed, he is a “voice of one calling out in the wilderness,” preparing hearts and minds for “the way of the Lord.” In other words, the path of faith, the Way that we are to follow when we follow Jesus, often begins in a wilderness place. 

In Advent, as we practice hopeful, holy waiting during a tumultuous time in our country and in the world, it can certainly feel like a wilderness moment. Wilderness seasons are part and parcel of our lives — we know that to walk on the Christian Way is not always easy. Indeed, immediately following his baptism, Jesus too is sent, not by some nefarious force, but by the Spirit, into the wilderness. His “forty days” there echoes the forty years the Israelites wandered “the wilderness” before entering the Promised Land. He is tempted in wilderness spaces — and may even experience the heaviness of isolation and sadness — but he is also ministered to by the angels, assured that he is not alone, and that God the Father is with him, bolstering and aiding him with spiritual sustenance to prepare him for the work ahead, for leading others onto the Way. 

In this time, as we strive to stay on the Way, may we take comfort in knowing God also comforts us, even in wilderness times. The Gospel message continues to call to us, a voice of hope and promise in a wilderness season. 


Summerlee Staten
Faith Formation & Education

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