Today’s reading: Luke 3:1-6
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: (v. 4b)
I’ve always read this description of John the Baptist as “calling out in a loud voice,” imagining him with every stereotype I can summon: camel-shirted, bug-eating, wild-eyed, crazy-haired streetcorner preacher, completely unashamed of (oblivious to) his appearance or to how he is perceived. A guy not so good with the whole “indoor voice” thing, every proclamation a few too many notches up on the volume scale.
But today, with tears in my eyes as I read the news of yet another unimaginable horror, I’m reading this passage differently. Today, in my head, the voice of the prophet of the wilderness is not so much crying out as just plain crying. In the wilderness that is this world (that has always been–not just in today’s tragedy, or this generation’s failures, or this nation’s problems, or this century’s decline)–in this ancient and sustained wilderness of pain, of death, of anger and hate, of self-righteousness and disrespect, of actual victims and of victim mentalities, of “mineminemine” and of “screw you”–in such a wilderness, what is there to do but weep?
Today, I hear John like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” after hours of talking, endlessly proclaiming (but never being heard), the prophet’s voice breaking and cracking and failing and finally dissolving into exhausted tears. I hear the comforting promise not as a proud, bellowing announcement, but choked out between sobs to a wilderness of a world that still (still, after millennia) doesn’t seem to be listening. But maybe words whispered through tears are the only ones we can really hear, when the wilderness is crushing in on us, confusing our sense of direction, obscuring paths, surrounding us with the dark. Let us believe them and speak them again and again into the wilderness, no matter how our voices fade and our tears roll. Let us believe and speak endlessly until that day when
every valley shall be filled,
every mountain and hill shall be made low,
the crooked shall be made straight,
the rough ways smooth;
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
May it come soon.