One of the most important aspects of my spiritual journey throughout the years has been the connection I feel to God when I am immersed in the outdoors. As a child, my father would frequently take me on bike rides and hikes through a local forest preserve. Each time we went on these excursions, we would venture off the trail briefly to visit a magnificent old oak tree. While there we journaled, prayed and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation together.
Everyone needs the wilderness in their lives, a place where they can escape from the hustle and bustle and meet with God. One of the most difficult times to do this is during the busy holiday season, where it seems that other concerns and plans take precedence over our spiritual commitments. The truth is, we need this time alone with God especially to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
John the Baptist devoted his life to living in the wilderness, and drew the crowds there to baptize and speak the Good News about Jesus. He knew that someone greater was to follow him, one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. In preparation for Christ’s coming, John encouraged people to repent and restore a right relationship with God. We should do the same as we prepare to honor Christ’s birth and the hope that this brings for all of us. During this busy season, may we all find time to retreat with God in the wilderness.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'”