Why the wilderness?
Back in the “golden age” of archaeology (think Indiana Jones,) an archaeologist set off for South america to track down a “lost” Inca city. It wasn’t really lost, the natives in the area knew exactly where it was. And so the archaeologist hired some native guides to lead him to the site.
They trekked through the jungle for what seemed like hours when all of a sudden the native guides stopped, put down their packs and refused to go any further. At first the archaeologist thought there must be some obstruction or danger ahead of them but that turned out to not be the case. The guides simply refused to go any further and no amount of cajoling, wheedling, arguing or anger could get them to move.
The archaeologist began to consider his choices. He could push on ahead without his guides and hope to find the city on his own. Or he could go back to the village and try again another time. He had pretty much come to a decision when the guides stood up, grabbed their packs, and continued through the jungle leading to the Inca ruin.
The confused archaeologist finally caught up to the guides and asked them why they had stopped.
“We had been moving so fast,” replied one of them, “that we had to stop and let our souls catch up to us.”
Our world moves very quickly these days, Advent allows us time to let our souls catch up to us. But we have to pause to let them do so.
“John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John is the herald, calling us to prepare the way for the Lord.
In the bible, the wilderness is the place where one encounters God. It is where Israel received the law when they left Egypt. It is also where Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning His public ministry.
Different translations often render the word “desert,” but wilderness, solitary, lonely and desolate is more accurate. To those in the Holy Land, this means the desert. To us, that may mean the forests or the lakes or the seashores.
To go out into the wilderness is to leave behind our attachment to our everyday world. We leave behind the material things that may not leave room in our hearts for God. We leave behind the noise of our daily lives. In the wild places we leave behind our everyday cares and concerns and find the quiet to hear the voice of God that speaks to us.
We do not need to physically travel out to the forests or deserts, although if we can it is a wonderful way to prepare ourselves during this time of Advent. But we can also retreat to the wild places within us. Find a space and a time where you can sit quietly and explore the place of solitude and desolation in your heart, it is there, if you listen, that you will hear God.