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Found in the Wilderness – Br. John Braught

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Br. John Braught

“Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?”

Being lost is terrible. In the wilderness, it is particularly distressing. When we are lost in the wilderness, every leaf and tree looks the same, we become increasingly bewildered, may wander in circles, and wonder whether we have passed this way before.  And though few of us, perhaps, have been lost to the extent of being life-threatened; most of us, I suspect, can identify with the feeling of being uncomfortably lost.  When we realize we are lost our hearts race, or sink. We feel confused, and very frustrated. Depression sets in. We get anxious; and – if we are all alone and it is getting dark – progressively, hopeless. Being lost is terrible. Being lost makes us want to cry out: for help, for recognition; to let somebody – anybody! – know we are lost. “Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?” And how much hope does a response bring! Somebody is out there! Somebody knows we are lost, and will find us! A response is the answer to the no doubt innumerable prayers that have been uttered; the answer to the deepest longing of our heart: We are found! The wilderness is the place we get lost, but the wilderness is also the place we are found.John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness, but this is not the cry of someone who is lost. No. This is the cry of someone who has been found in the wilderness, though it is safe to say that John once had been lost. Clothed in camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist; John ate locusts and wild honey. An icon we possess depicts John as dirty, bearded, with wild, tangled hair. A real wild man, you can tell John’s been somewhere dark; but not anymore. John the Baptist was lost in the wilderness, but is found.  John is found by Jesus in the wilderness – the place of encounter.

Wilderness, in the Bible, is the place of encounter. In Hebrew scripture, the original name for the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, means “in the wilderness”. The book of Numbers recounts how God led the Israelites into the wilderness (where they wandered forty years before they entered the Promised Land). It was in the wilderness, on Mt. Sinai, that God spoke to Moses, and gave the Israelites their laws and commandments. The wilderness is essential for the Israelites understanding of how God deals with them; God deals with the Israelites in the wilderness. And so we find John the Baptist in the wilderness.  We find Jesus, after he is baptized by John, driven into the wilderness. The wilderness is essential for the Israelites understanding of how God deals with them; but not just the Israelites, the first Christian monks – the desert Fathers and Mothers – imitated Christ, they sought to live an authentic Christian life by purposefully fleeing into the wilderness, the place of encounter.

Wilderness is the place of encounter because in the wilderness – the desolate, barren, lonely, isolating  wilderness, the place where we get lost – in the wilderness we are brought up against our own limits. Our wealth, our status, our privilege do not count for much in the wilderness. There is no “don’t you know who I am” in the wilderness. We are all the same in the wilderness: fragile, weak, defenseless. The first thing we encounter in the wilderness is ourselves, and we don’t always like what we find – so we don’t like to go there. We don’t like to go to the wilderness, because we don’t like to be encountered by our weakness, our lack of control, we don’t like to feel lost. But even if we don’t go there on purpose like the first Christian monks, Advent reminds us that there will be seasons when we inevitably find ourselves in the wilderness.

Advent means coming. Advent reminds us that there was a time when God, as we understand God, was not present in the world. But not only that, Advent reminds us that there are times, and that there will be times when God does not seem to be present in our lives. Many of us have been there. Advent reminds us that there are times when we will be waiting, and we need God to come because we are lost in the wilderness, and it is getting dark. It might be that we are lost in the wilderness of grief because someone has died, or we need to let go of someone we love. Maybe we’re lost in the wilderness of resentment when we replay in our mind some slight or injustice over and over and over again. Maybe we’re lost in the wilderness of regret, or shame, or overwhelmed with too much to do, too much responsibility, we feel overpowered by life, and we can’t find a way out. We need God to come. Advent means coming. God is coming, and that’s what we are waiting for during Advent. God is coming, and this good news is proclaimed in the wilderness, the place of encounter, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

This is the cry of someone who has been found in the wilderness. Once lost, John the Baptist was found by Jesus in the wilderness. John found another way. John preaches repentance, a turning around, a change in thinking and direction, John preaches another way, but it’s not his way, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John was found in the wilderness, John found another way, but John remains in the wilderness to proclaim good news to those who are still lost. John proclaims good news to those who are lost in the wilderness and have cried out: for help, for recognition, to let somebody – anybody! – know they are lost. “Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?” And how much hope does a response bring! “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals!” Somebody is out there, and they are proclaiming good news. Advent reminds us that when we are lost in the wilderness, which we sometimes will be, we don’t need to find our own way out. What we need when we are lost in the wilderness is to allow ourselves to be found in the wilderness, the place of encounter. Advent reminds us that when we are lost in the wilderness what we need to do is stop. Cry out. Wait. Listen. And hear the good news: The One with power is on his way.

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2 Comments

  1. Brian on December 13, 2014 at 19:44

    Brother John: Thank you for allowing God to use you in this way. Your sermon has enlightened me; I will never think of the wilderness in the same way as before. God bless you and his peace be upon you.

  2. Pamela Borowiec on December 11, 2014 at 22:08

    Thank you, Brother John. I needed to read and hear this message tonight.
    God speaks in the wilderness, and you have spoken to me.

    I pray that we who are in the wilderness may be found by God.

    -Pam

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