A Welcome Word in the Wilderness

Each one of us could tell a story about the wilderness. I am not talking about the scenic overlook along the highway, the unspoiled beauty of nature, or that quiet, back to nature, weekend getaway from the hassles of life. No. Our stories would be ones of struggles, ups and downs, highs and lows, stories of being lost and overwhelmed, stories of stumbling, falling down, and wondering when, how, or even if we will get up again.

The wilderness of which I am speaking is not the geography around us but the landscape within us. This interior wilderness brings us to the limits of our own self-sufficiency, it leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed, living on the edge. In the wilderness there are no distractions. There is no place to hide. In the wilderness we face the truth of who we are and what our life is like.

Fresco of St. John the Baptist
Fresco of St. John the Baptist by Meister von Gracanica, 1235 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes we go to the wilderness, other times it comes to us. Either way it is hard work most of would rather avoid. There is, however, no quick fix. There is no way out of or around the wilderness. The only way is through the wilderness. That’s what John the Baptist knows and proclaims in today’s gospel. Before him it was Isaiah crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

There’s something about the wilderness. It’s the place where our lives can be transformed, the place we are most open to changing and being changed. 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.

God is always showing up, speaking, and acting in the wilderness places of our lives. That’s our sacred story and it is the story of those who have gone before us. The word of God led the Israelites through the wilderness of bondage and slavery. The word of God raised Lazarus from the wilderness of death. The word of God fed the 5000 in the wilderness of hunger and emptiness.

The word of God and the wilderness always go together. There’s something about the domesticated places, the illusions of power and prestige, the distractions of the city that separate us from the word of God. The word of God did not come in the empire of Tiberius, the governing of Pontius Pilate, the ruling of Herod, his brother, Philip, or Lysianias, or the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. The word of God comes in the wilderness. That was true for John the Baptist and it is true for us.

Name any wilderness of your life and there will be a corresponding word of God.

  • In the wilderness of exile the word of God speaks of coming home.
  • In the wilderness of broken relationships the word of God speaks reconciliation.
  • In the wilderness of self-doubt the word of God speaks of your being beloved.
  • 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 loss and sorrow the word of God speaks healing and joy.
  • 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. The word of God comes in our wilderness because we are loved. It is the divine presence 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 examine our lives, to turn around, to change our way of being, to see the world, one another, and our selves in a new way. It is the beginning of our preparing the way of the Lord. This is the repentance to which John the Baptist call us. Ultimately, it is the call to love and be loved.

We repent not because we are bad, defective, or deficient but because we are loved. We prepare the way of the Lord because we are loved and we shall see the salvation of God because we are loved.


This sermon was based on Luke 3:1-6 . The collect and readings for the day, Advent 2C, may be found here. Other Advent sermons for this year are as follows:


  1. Reblogged this on Pelican In The Wilderness and commented:
    I am hoping that this blog brings together those of us who abide in the Silence; know the Grace of Solitude and have encountered the Wilderness, and know its contours and unexpected gifts. Mark knows the Wilderness and gives us hope in this post of its bounty and grace and indeed its purpose. Blessings, Stephanie


  2. Michael, a welcome word indeed. I expect to share your meditation with a couple of groups this week in the desert. Thank you for attending to the silence and interrupting it. Your words, for me at least, do indeed contribute to the silence.


  3. ….in the wilderness,with no distractions and no place to hide..I face the truth of who I am..and what my life is become.
    …such a personally powerful meditation for me as i prepare myself for a weekend silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemanie monastery…Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: