“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed, waving in the wind of public opinion?”
What did you go out to see? A “kept” man, bought and paid for, saying what he’s paid to say? You know where to find them!”
“What did you go out to see? What was it that drew you out of your comfort, that brought you to a lonely place?”
“A prophet.” Someone you knew spoke God’s word, whether you liked it or not. Someone you recognized as having enough integrity to stand alone, unswayed by public opinion or political influence. Someone you recognized as equipped to help get ready for all the new that is coming.
Jesus’ endorsement of his cousin John got me thinking about what kind of preparation is necessary for one who would be willing and able to stand alone in a difficult time. The answer, it seems to me, is desert time.
Time in the desert shaped the character and identity of John. The desert has a way of doing that. In the desert, in the lonely place, everything that is not essential is blown away by the necessity of survival. Life is brought down to its bare core. All of the conventions of success, all of the strategies of social structure, all of the deliberate delicacies of polite conversation, are left in the dust of the desert. The only thing left is what was there all the time – the life at the center. The nourishment of the desert is adequate for life, not luxury.
That kind of life develops the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion. One who has learned to live on locusts and honey can not be bribed. One who has trained an ear to the silence can not be swayed by the other voices, no matter how seductive.
The desert becomes a place of still refuge and great, soul shaping beauty for those who have been trained by it. And that is also one of the gifts of Lent. Life reduced to its core before God – trained to stillness, trained to silence.
It is that kind of life that prepares the way of the Lord.