A Refuge in the Wilderness

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 2: 13-15

13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

We are accustomed to the wilderness being a scary place, a wild and unpredictable mass of chaos that becomes our nemesis, our thing to conquer. But can it ever be a place of refuge?  It seems there is nothing about it that feels safe. There is nothing about it that feels like we are in control. There is nothing about it that feels like it is protecting us. And yet, after the birth of Jesus, after that hard birth in the grotto of Bethlehem, Joseph is called into yet another wilderness. Joseph is told to flee to Egypt. The reason that Joseph and his new family are called into the wilderness isn’t about awakening or questing or getting to a promised land of some sort. Joseph is called into the wilderness so that the wilderness can be a refuge.

But when you think about it, this has happened before. The Israelites were released into the wilderness in order to pursue freedom–ironically, freedom from Egypt. The wilderness is their way to freedom. And now, Joseph and his family return, traversing the wilderness in search of freedom, in search of safety from Herod, from the certain death of Jesus the child. Maybe Egypt was never the captor at all, but just the other side of the wilderness, the other side of freedom. But this fleeing into the wilderness by Joseph and Mary and their child is to gain refuge. Here, the wilderness is a place of refuge.

Maybe it can be that for us too.  Maybe we don’t trust it as refuge because we can’t control it or predict it or pave its path. After all, we tend to think of it as “all or nothing”. How can I guarantee my safety? How can I protect myself against all harm? How can I make sure that nothing will happen to me? Well, you can’t. God does not provide some sort of Divine bubble around our lives. Things happen. Bad things happen. Maybe rather than closing us off to life, God calls us into wildernesses so that we will have nothing to hold onto except God. God provides a refuge not from the things of life or the things that we can’t control, but from those things that get in the way of who we are, those things that perhaps protect us so much that they become our captors, our enslavers. But in the refuge of the wilderness, we have to let them go. For us, just as those before us, the wilderness is our way not to safety or protection from life, but to freedom. Because in the freedom of the wilderness, when we have let go of the things that we hold so tightly, we find that God is holding us, providing a refuge, a way to freedom, a way forward.

This Season of Lent, like the wilderness, is often wild and untamed. And yet, it gets us out of ourselves, providing a refuge, offering freedom so that we can move forward finally unhindered and free from enslavement. Refuge seldom comes when we are comfortable.  Refuge comes when we need to reach, when we need to grasp for something to hold us or save us or free us.  This Lenten wilderness journey can be our refuge if we only let it.  So, reach for it!

God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.  (Annie Dillard)

Grace and Peace,


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