In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Oh not this! How can you call this beautiful story the wilderness? But the truth is, Jesus was born into a wilderness. Joseph and Mary had had to travel some distance to get to this place. And the setting, for all the wonder and awe that it holds for us was not idyllic—forced occupation, taxation without representation, poor couple, long trip under less than favorable circumstances, and, then, no room when they got there. See, in our haste to welcome the child each year and celebrate once again his arrival into the world, we forget the circumstances into which he came. We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of a grotto drenched with the waters of new Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath. We forget that Mary was probably in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm that she had never entered. And we forget that Joseph felt oh so very responsible and that the weight of that responsibility, the responsibility for essentially birthing God into this world, was heavy on his shoulders. We remember Jesus’ birth, the moment when we came to be. But we forget that the wilderness is where we came to be.
Now this is, of course, not the first time that God has appeared in the wilderness. Incarnations were happening all along. God came as winds sweeping across the waters, burning bushes, and thick clouds that shrouded mountains. God came in dreams and whirlwinds and strange manna appearing in the wilderness. God always came. Perhaps we were too busy with our lives to notice. So, on this particular night in this particular place, God called us into the wilderness of our lives so that we would finally notice. God seeks us out, showing us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy that we had missed all along. On this silent night, in the thick wilderness of night, God comes and dances with humanity, crossing the line between the ordinary and the Divine if only for a while. God comes to us.
Haven’t you always thought that it would have made more sense for Jesus to born into the establishment, perhaps into at least moderate wealth, in a place where it all would have been noticed? OK, really? So what would have happened if Jesus had been born into a single-family McMansion in the suburbs? See, God always comes into the wilderness. God chooses to call us into the wild where we will notice that God is there. God calls us away from what we know, away from those places where we get comfortable and close ourselves off. God calls us to the place where we are open to newness, open to encounter, open to walking toward rather than closing off. And on this night, on this beautiful silent night with angels singing and stars shining, the walk to the Cross began. The wilderness is where we can come to be because it is the place where we know nothing else other than to walk forward. This season of Lent, this season of walking to the Cross did not just begin this last Ash Wednesday. It began long ago on that silent night in the wilderness. It began in the darkness of the wilderness when we came to be.
It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)
FOR TODAY: Leave the comforts of your life and walk into a wilderness. What do you see? Who do you encounter? Now keep walking.
Grace and Peace,