There's a voice crying in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord.
Great sermon on the topic at this blog.
The wilderness is where people went to seek their calling, to find their names, to discover their strengths (and probably weaknesses, too). From the wilderness stumbles John the Baptist, obviously having been there a while since he's wearing clothing of hides. He's rough and uncombed and possibly dirty - the kind of person that we would cross the street to avoid. And, he's undoubtedly been doing some kind of mind altering substance because he's proclaiming that God is coming to the wilderness. Right, John. We hear you. You're still high on whatever you found out there, but you'll be okay in a bit.
So there by the river that is a separating place from the wilderness and the real world, John starts dunking people in the little bit of water flowing and proclaiming that they are born anew, their sins washed away. Right - that dirty sludging water is gonna cleanse sins? I think not.
But, I'm wrong. God does come to the wilderness. Jesus, the Christ, is baptised by John in that slinky bit of water and the world is changed forever. God announces that the Beloved Son has become both divine and human - sharing our world, using the outhouse, putting on his robe the same way that the money-lenders and tax collectors do. Jesus got irritated with his Mama, left his Daddy's work, went wandering around the country. Then, he started teaching in synagogues, and everyone thought he was crazy, including his family. Jesus died as all humans die - although some humans are privileged to have less stressful deaths.
Now about this wilderness. I've been there a number of times - looking for Godot 'cause he never showed up on his white horse to rescue me, finding myself, looking for love in all the wrong places, blinded by the light and wandered off the road, reeling drunk at age 30 and lying in my own vomit, seeking ordination, racking up debt in seminary (a wilderness all its own). I've spent a lot of time in the wilderness trying to stop the pain.
But, you know what: God was in that wilderness with me because others prepared the way. God walked beside me until I was ready to leave the wilderness - every time I left it. And God walked beside me every time I entered that wilderness again. Those times when I did not feel the presence of God did not mean that God had left me alone. Nope, I just lost the sense of being worthy of God's presence.
I still haven't stopped the pain - not the emotional or physical pain, but I'm not in the wilderness right now. God still walks with me. And, yes, I ate those five cookies tonight because they did for a few minutes what I won't let God do for me - they stopped the pain. God has blessed me by taking away my desire to drink, by giving me a one true love, by gracing my life with a ministry of caring for people. I still carry the pain, and I still seek unhealthy ways of ameliorating the pain.
We all go down to the dust, and I may carry my pain to the dust, but I will know that God has walked with me and helped me bear that pain all the days of my life. Perhaps my pain will help prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness so that others may feel God's presence as they stumble along the path of seeking.