John the Baptist came as the voice of one crying in the wilderness... After His baptism, Jesus enters the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4:1)... Why the wilderness?
The wilderness represented several things. First it represented a place of danger. Away from the safety of the city and its walls, apart from being with people who represent security and familiarity, the wilderness is meant to represent a place of vulnerability. Second, in the wilderness represented a place outside the refuge of the Church (or in this case the Temple and synagogue). In the wilderness may not mean the same for us.
For us the wilderness may have little to do with the desert or uninhabited regions. For us the city is the wilderness, the city brings with it its own desert of parched desire and relentless pleasure seeking. You and I do not need to be removed from our homes and the places where we live and work in order to find the wilderness. Indeed, it is in these places where our greatest temptations come.
Our great temptation today is to call the wilderness home, to be more comfortable in the domain of our feelings and desires than in the House of God where His Word speaks and His Sacraments impart their riches of grace to us. Our great struggle is that we no longer feel at home in the house of our fathers and want to remake the church into a place where the lines between city and church are blurred. We do this not only by bringing the music of the world into the church, we also do this by re framing the message of the Word so that it speaks what we want to hear.
Jesus was taken out of those things that represented faith and community to be alone with His tempter and the tempter's wiles. Our world has been turned upside down so that the very faith we confess and the community we seek have become a scandal to the Lord and the wilderness that cries out for Him.
No, the devil does not have to move me far to put me in the shadow of things tempting, the things that deceive me and do not bestow what they promise, the darkness that presumes to be Light... no, in many ways we have turned the church upside down so that the desires of my heart are the object of worship and the sacraments of life and worship and those things that can get me what we want.
Where is wilderness? I do not have to look far... I live in its neighborhood and I am at home on its block. Here in front of me is the very temptation that I need to learn to recognize and resist, with the guidance of the Spirit and the strength of Christ...
Just a few Lenten thoughts...