Before this section of Luke I presumed what I knew what the focus of my reflection would be. Those untold stories will remain just that because my attention was hijacked by a phrase that appears at the end of the Gospel. The last sentence reads, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
I’m sorry, what? I know Elizabeth and Zechariah were new at this parenting thing but who puts a child in a desert? Luke chose a strange transition from cute little baby John to camel hair wearing, bug eating, John the Baptist (though a childhood spent in the desert would explain a lot). So that’s the line with which I prayed.
As I prayed with that line I thought about the symbol of the desert. A place for nearness with the Lord. The desert was a place where people could go to retreat into their proper relationship with God. In the desert priorities get straitened, frivolous competitors for our attention fade way, God’s provision becomes clearer, and the time for prayer becomes more available. Not to mention it is intentional. Without a care or second thought I could wander one of the metro-parks in the area, but to go out into the desert is a choice you make with a purpose in mind. One does not go into a desert to become comfortable, we desert comfort to become purposeful, and the purpose we hope to adopt is God’s.
This brings us back to Luke’s line about John being in the desert. When I first read it I pictured the child John, but that seemed a little absurd to me. However, I wondered how long of a desert stay are we talking here? Surely, he could have been home or in Jerusalem for Passover, or any number of places, but, (and I’m not saying Luke intended it this way) he had the spiritual life of one in the desert. There was a nearness to God that required John being able to enter the desert even if he did not physically travel there until later in life.
We all need to find this desert in our life. We need to find a way to create, at the very least, a time, if not a place that we enter the desert. We need that time in our everyday lives when we intentionally seek the purposes of God, not to mention see His provision. It was the man from the desert that stood on the shore of the river, and through all the distractions and noise pointed out Jesus saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” John might not have known everything about God that the Pharisees and scribes of that time could have taught him, but he knew Him when he saw Him because he was from the desert.
So let’s find a time to enter the desert. Maybe it is a daily time of prayer, maybe it means having a prayer corner, or it means recommitting prayer time to the pursuit of God’s priorities. Either way, if we are to model John’s ability to identify Christ when we see him, we need to know him, and for that, we need the desert.