The Wilderness is Where We Came to Be

nativity-story_282_resizedScripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

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,


Lowering Our Expectations

Shoes of PovertyScripture Text:  Matthew 1:18b-21

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”


Can you imagine Joseph’s surprise?  Good grief, what was God doing while I was busy making plans for God to come?  For generations, my people have been looking for a Savior, planning for that moment, when the King would enter triumphantly.  What were we expecting?  Well, of course, we were expecting someone obvious, someone  who would make himself known in the world, someone who is a little bit better than you or I.  We were expecting power and might and grandiose presentation.  But instead God walked into our very human existence.  God traversed time and space and the perceived separation between the sacred and the ordinary and entered our everyday world.  On some level, that bothers many of us.  After all, we are trying to do BETTER than this; we are aspiring to be more than human.  What in the world is God doing messing around in the muck of this world?


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said that “by virtue of the creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”  So, perhaps God came into this very ordinary world to show us the holiness that has been created, the sacredness that in our worldliness, we were somehow missing.  Perhaps God steps into our lives to show us the depth that we haven’t dared to dig into our lives.  Perhaps God came and walked with us not to show us how to be but to show us how to see.  But when it’s all said and done, this practice we have of “looking for God” has been proven bizarre.  After all, it was never God that was lost!  We were never separated from the sacred; we just missed seeing it because it wasn’t what we were expecting.  So, again, what were we expecting?  Maybe the the whole lesson is that God will come when and where and in the way that God will come.  But if there’s a “pattern” to be figured out about this God who cannot be figured out, it’s that God comes into the unexpected, into the unplanned, and into the unprepared places in our lives and lays down in a feed trough and patiently waits for the world to wake up and notice.


While we were busy looking up, with grand plans for “our Savior”, the God who was on “our side”, God slipped in to the bowels of the world and promised redemption for not just those who were busily looking for God, but the whole world.  The whole world?  The WHOLE world, all of Creation, all of existence.  Maybe the reason that God started where God started was that the rest of us were looking beyond where we should be looking, busily looking for someone to complete what we had started, to validate that what we were doing was right, to raise us up beyond the muck of the world.  But God, even at this moment, descends into places we would rather shake away.  While we were busy looking up, searching for the star in the sky, God descended into humanity.


Maybe we were trying to be something we were not.  Maybe we were overreaching a bit.  But God, God comes into our world not to validate us, not to complete us, but to re-create us.  God is good at starting us over, making us new, giving us eyes to see what we have been missing all along.  This human God, this God who laid down in a feed trough, this God who loves everyone humbles us at best.  Who are we that we have such lofty expectations as to think that we are beyond loving someone like us?  Who are we that we missed the holiness in front of us, the sacredness within us, the piece of the Divine that walks beside us even when we don’t notice?  Who are we that we thought ourselves capable of “finding God” without first looking for the God who is always with us, Emmanuel?  Who are we that we thought God would come in the way we expected rather than the way that we needed for Life?  Who are we that we missed our Life?  Who are we that we missed our God?  Maybe we should lower our expectations to a feed trough on the outskirts of power and strength and achievement.  Because there, not only will we find God, but the “we” that we were all along.


In this final week of Advent (WHAT?!?  THERE’S ONLY A WEEK?) , we are all busy preparing for the day of God’s coming.  But whether or not we get it done, whether or not the house is clean or the goodies are baked or the presents are wrapped, God will come and the world will never be the same.  Expectation is about moving into what will be rather than preparing for what we expect.


What wondrous Love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul!  What wondrous Love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul. (USA Folk Hymn)


FOR TODAY:  Lower your expectations.  Look at your life.  Look at your self.  See the God who walks with you in the holiness of days.


Grace and Peace,



Traveling Mercies

Mary and Joseph Journeying to BethlehemScripture Passage for Reflection:  Luke 2: 1-5

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

The journey has begun.  We know the drill.  We’ve seen the pictures of the very-pregnant Mary on the donkey with a worn-out Joseph leading the way on the road to Bethlehem.  We know the story.  They were going to Bethlehem, to the city of Joseph’s ancestors.  Now there are reputable scholars that claim that more than likely the writers of Luke and Matthew’s Gospels were mistaken.  There was not,after all, a requirement to return for this registration and so, perhaps, Jesus was actually born in Nazareth (as in the “Jesus of Nazareth”) or EVEN in a small town outside of Nazareth called Bethlehem of Galilee, a Roman-Byzantine town in the northern part of the Jezreel valley.  (Again, does it matter?)  But to make this story work with all the Christmas carols and the myriads of Nativity scenes, they need to go to Bethlehem of Judea.  And so it becomes our journey.

Jezreel ValleyThe 80-100 mile journey probably would have taken about 8 days if Mary was truly bouncing along on some sort of equine creature. So in the second day of their journey, they would have entered the Jezreel valley south of Nazareth and journeyed along the hills of Samaria.  It’s really a foreign concept to us, this traveling of about 10 miles a day or so through weather and wild animals and the certain threat of bandits and thieves as they neared what was essentially foreign territory for them.  But I’ve always had this sense that they did not travel alone but rather were accompanied by other family members, townspeople, or others that would have joined them along the way.  Sadly, I guess I envision traffic!  I mean, after all, this thing didn’t happen in a vaccuum.  Life was going on even in that moment. And life includes traffic!

That’s the way journeys are.  We seldom travel alone.  Together, we begin to let go of what we know, leave behind our securities and all things familiar.  We try to come prepared, packing as many provisions as this poor donkey can hold. And then we try our best to make our way through the sometimes-rough terrain.  So, why do we go through this?  Well, have you ever noticed that the entire Bible is full of people on the move, migrating from one country to another, from one way of being to another?  I mean, it started with that garden story when, essentially, Adam and Eve were moved on for whatever reason.  And Abraham, well he was like the journeying king, dragging his family across miles and miles of land in search of a promise.  In fact, that was the whole deal.  You know, “if you’ll leave your country and journey to a place that you’ve never seen and that you don’t know, this is all going to turn out.” (or something like that).  And then Moses, ah…Moses…dragging hoards of people through wilderness wanderings for 40 or so years.  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Maybe it’s not about where we are headed but the journey itself.  After all, we know this whole Bethlehem tale.  We know that they’ll get there and there won’t be a place.  There’s never a place.  None of these people built a mansion and settled in the gated communities of their lives.  They kept going, sometimes making it and sometimes never seeing the place to which they were journeying.

Our journey is no different.  There’s never a place.  You see, God does not call us down roads that are paved with our plans and our preconceptions.  God calls us instead to travel through the wilds of our lives, to journey with our eyes open that we might see this new thing that God is doing.  T.S. Eliot once said that “the end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.”  There’s never a place.  We never really “arrive”.  The journey does not end. It’s always new, re-created.  That’s the point.   After all, even Mary and Joseph turned and made their way home.  But they were never the same again.  And the baby that is coming?  Well, he was never meant to settle down and stay put.  And there was never really room for him at all.  God didn’t intend to show us how to build a house; God revealed the journey home and threw in traveling mercies on the way. So, let us go and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us!

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Manfred Weber, ed.)

Reflection:  What will you take on your journey?  What should you leave behind?  How do you envision your journey today?

Grace and Peace,