4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So Jesus was born in the wilderness. So Jesus, even as a small child, was whisked off into the wilderness to surely save his life. And now, Jesus goes into the wilderness and is baptized by John. You see, Jesus wasn’t baptized at the beautiful marble or wood font that is in the front of your sanctuary. Jesus wasn’t baptized surrounded by the comforts of air conditioning and pew cushions. When Jesus knelt, there was no altar cushion beneath his knees. There was no celebratory lunch after his baptism. Jesus went into the wilderness and made his way into the cold water of the Jordan, feeling it first with his foot and then slowly, ever so slowly, making his way to the place where John stood. And as he walked into the water, his clothes and his body were consumed by the waters and the chill overwhelmed him. And then John, clothed in stinky wet camel’s hair with a sagging leather belt around his waist, gingerly took Jesus and pushed him beneath the swirling waters of the river. “In the Name of God, I baptize you.” And as Jesus rose out of the water, gasping for breath, he looked up and the heavens were torn apart, torn apart never to be put back in quite the same way again, never capable of going back to the way they were. And from this gaping opening in the heavens, the Spirit seemed to descend like a dove. And they all heard it. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In that moment, there in the wilderness, Jesus found who he was. There in the wilderness with the wild animals and the blowing sands and the swirling waters of the river Jesus found who he was. There in the wilderness where life is wild and unpredictable, where the path is not as worn as the one we frequent in the city, where the dwelling place is open to the sky and not walled in, where nothing can be controlled and nothing can be held, Jesus found who he was. It seems to me that Jesus keeps returning to the wilderness, keeps returning to the place where we don’t expect him to be. Perhaps our cue is that we are called to do the same. Perhaps the wilderness is where we find who we are.
You see, in the comforts of our homes, in the security of our lives, in the places where we close our doors and lock them off to the world, we are told what we should be. We are told that we should pursue success and affirmation, that we should climb the ladder with our accomplishments and our resume’. We are made to believe that if we mingle with the right people and show up in the right places and post cute little pictures and statements on social media, we will get somewhere. But in the wilderness, where the pathway is unpredictable and not well-trodden, where we experience some discomfort and disillusionment with who we are, where we experience crises of identity and crises of faith, where we feel like we don’t fit and we don’t belong, where we feel, sometimes, like we can’t even connect with God there, there, we find who we are. We are pushed down into the waters of unknowing and we emerge with a new perspective. We are immersed in something that we do not control and cannot stop and find new ways to be. And the heavens open and the very Spirit of God spills onto us. And we hear it. We hear who we are, a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
Maybe we’re beginning to see a pattern here. Jesus’ life was not exactly charmed in the worldly sense of the word. It seems, rather, that the wilderness kept cropping up, somehow pulling him into its grip. I don’t think it was a test. I think it was God’s way of pulling us toward freedom, God’s way of releasing us from the expectation of others, from the assumptions that the world hands us of who we are supposed to be, that there is a certain path and a certain way that our life has laid out for us. Jesus’s life was mostly about walking in the wilderness, walking the way that was not the expected, that was not the norm, walking the way that opened himself to being immersed so that, finally, he could find who he was.
Perhaps that’s the point of our Lenten journey. It is not just a denying ourselves of something; it is not just doing something different, walking a different walk for a short season. This Lenten journey forces us into the wilderness, with cold water and murky pathways and hands us a mirror so that we take a good hard look at our lives and finally, finally find who we are: A daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased. And knowing who we are, everything has changed.
It is in the act of offerings our hearts in faith that something in us transforms…proclaiming that we no longer stand on the sidelines but are leaping directly into the center of our lives, our truth, our full potential. (Sharon Salzberg)
FOR TODAY: Let yourself go into the wilderness. Immerse yourself. Find who you are—a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
Grace and Peace,