by Carolyn Briggs
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, God’s word comes to John in the wilderness, far from the centers of Roman order and Jewish temple rites. John is alone in the waterless wild, a landscape evocative of human vulnerability. For the Jewish people the wilderness evokes other associations as well: the Exodus from Egypt, the Covenant with God at Sinai, and their desert journey to the land of promise. The wilderness is a place of danger and deliverance.
Luke frames John’s encounter with the word of God in language conveying divine inspiration. God inspires John and John acts. He journeys to the Jordan, proclaiming his God-inspired vision of a new reality, one that will require relinquishment of the old order and its ways. John exhorts his hearers to receive the gifts of repentance and forgiveness offered by God to prepare the people for the in-breaking way of the Lord.
John is the voice in the wilderness prefigured in the words of Isaiah written more than six hundred years earlier. Isaiah’s images are cataclysmic: mountains are brought down; valleys are raised up. The way of the Lord is made through the wilderness over ground that had once been impassable.
The apostle Thomas asks: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answers, “I am the way.” The way of the Lord is the way of Jesus, the one who reveals God’s love − God’s self-giving, self-sacrificing life for, in, and through humanity.
The way of the risen Christ breaks into the order and disorder of our own time, reaching into all the concrete realities of day-to-day existence. It is the way we travel only by God’s grace . . . the way that transforms our living in time and through eternity.