Epiphany Association

In this second week of our Advent journey, we encounter the powerful figure of John the Baptist, the great voice crying out in the wilderness. He leads us inevitably into the Desert. John’s preaching in the desert follows in a powerful line of desert evangelists, including Moses and Elijah. In the era of the early Church, we know of desert fathers and mothers who fled from the world to live a life of poverty and simplicity in the deserts of Syria, Egypt and Palestine and meet intriguing figures such as Mary of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Macarius the Great and John the Dwarf. They sought nothing less than an intimate knowledge – a heart-knowledge – of God. But back to John the Baptist…

Luke tells us that John the Baptist grew and became strong in spirit and lived hidden in the wilderness; he is prepared for his mission as a “voice in the wilderness” by years of silence. John spends his formative years far away from the tumult and chaos of the marketplace. And his voice, when it is unleashed, is a profound witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

There was a man sent by God whose name was John…

One of the early Church writers, Eusebius of Caesaria (a bishop in the 300’s) teaches that The [Isaiah] prophecy makes it clear that it is to be fulfilled, not in Jerusalem, but in the wilderness: it is there that the glory of the Lord is to appear…

So it is in the desert that we are to “make a highway”. How do we make our way? In the desert, we are invited to be stripped of our preoccupations, distractions and attachments. The desert bears a starkness and yet also holds a tremendous spaciousness of heart: it is a landscape of simplicity and silence.

How striking the contrast between the Desert and the hustle and bustle of the month of December! How foreign to us a desert-practice of silence and simplicity may seem. Yet our Advent preparation is desert-work: simplicity, recollection, a bit of quiet in the midst of the “marketplace”. We take John the Baptist as our patron and guide. John did not exalt himself; his heart was prepared in a long desert silence. May we call upon him this Advent to teach us the wisdom of the desert and the wisdom of silence, as we wait for the coming of our Lord.

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