The Beckoning Wilderness
“So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,”
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
It is the last week of December and the day celebrating the birth of Jesus has past, though the influence and impact of His birth continue to reverberate through the world. Like a pebble breaking the surface of a reflective pool the ripples are moving out from the center to the outer most boundaries of the shoreline.
I find that the days after Christmas, considering all the anticipation and work preparing for the birth of Christ, leave me somewhat deflated. It may be as simple as lack of sleep or just being emotionally spent, but I tend to see more of the darkness ahead than the light behind. This seems odd to me since the light of the world has come, yet it is strangely how I feel at times.
As I consider this one of the things that strikes me about the Christmas story and in general the life of Jesus is that there is always a wilderness ahead to be traversed. It begins when Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus must escape by night from the danger of Herod seeking to eliminate any threat to His throne. They are directed to Egypt to wait until the danger passes and then eventually to Nazareth to avoid Herod’s descendants. The holy family is called to begin a wilderness journey to the land of Egypt, back to Judea and finally to Galilee. But for Jesus the journey that often begins with such inspirational moments, like the heavens opening up at His baptism, includes more wilderness experiences. It is not necessarily always the physical wilderness of the Judean desert, but the spiritual wilderness of a dark world. He comes to bring light and life into that dark and dangerous world, into my own dark and dangerous world.
I need not fear the dark or the danger when I walk in His light. But it does not necessarily mean there are not desolate places to be traversed, in the same way Jesus traverses the desolate places of the wilderness and transforms them into places of prayer, nourishment and fruitfulness. The ministry of Jesus reaches into the very darkest places of my life to bring light that exposes, guides and ultimately heals. Rather than avoiding these wilderness places I am beckoned to enter and journey through them in the presence of and with the guidance of Jesus. The wilderness is a transformative place that takes the clay of my life and reshapes it by the power of the Holy Spirit into the pleasing vessel God intends. It is not necessarily an easy or comfortable place, and God knows that is what I’d prefer. But on this journey I must trust that He knows the best way to the destination and also the best way to help me arrive in the condition He intends.
The Christmas story is part of the ongoing story God has written for humanity. It is the fulfillment of the prophetic word spoken in ages past. But, though the birth of Christ has accomplished fulfillment of much of the prophetic record, God’s story for humanity will not be fully realized until all creation is made complete and whole in Him and through Him. His birth at Christmas just reminds me that there is a new birth awaiting us all in Jesus. The uncomfortable wilderness experiences are, as Jesus often described, the labor pains that accompany new birth into the new life of His kingdom. He has scattered seed in this wilderness, cultivated ground in this wilderness and is bringing to fruition in this wilderness a harvest of new life in Him. It seems my role is always to surrender to the work He is accomplishing in and through me so that I might experience the new life He intends.
As we move into a new year there most likely will be moments of darkness and areas of wilderness ahead, but the good news of Christmas is that Jesus, the light of the world has been born and Emmanuel, God with us, accompanies us each step along the way. Our transformation and arrival are in good hands. May you take hold of the one who has graciously extended His hand, His heart and His whole life to you to take hold of on this journey. Blessings and happy New Year!