Mark 1:1-8: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV)
Greetings to you and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Abiding Holy Spirit.
God’s message that he was coming rose out of the wilderness. God’s message that he was coming soon, very soon, was announced outside of Jerusalem, outside the capital, outside the center of political and economic power. The message that God was coming very soon was spoken outside of the Temple, the center of Judaism, the one spot where heaven and earth touch. It is in the wilderness, a wild place, that people hear that God is coming, be ready.
That message was proclaimed by a wild man. John the Baptist didn’t live in Jerusalem; he didn’t even live in his home village. He lived in the wild. As far as the story tells us, he didn’t have a wife or child. He didn’t wear the clothes that everybody else wore. He didn’t eat what most people are. He was a wild man calling out from the wilderness, “Repent, the Lord is coming.”
This got me thinking about a powerful sermon that I heard from a young woman who had just returned from her time with Young Adults in Global Mission. She introduced me to Sally McFague’s idea of “wild spaces.” Imagine two partially overlapping circles, like a venn diagram. The bigger circle is everything that the world tells us is important, valuable. The bigger circle is everything the world tells us we should strive to be - wealthy, white, straight, educated, healthy, male, thin, etc. The other, smaller circle is us, all the things that make us who we are. Not all of those things will fit within the bigger circle. We all have things that hang over the edge. Some of us will have more than others, but we all have some part of ourselves that doesn’t fit with what the world wants out of us. Sally McFague calls these parts of ourselves “wild spaces.”
These wild spaces are important. When we love and accept and dwell in our wild spaces, they help to spark our imaginations. In our wild spaces, we see what God wants for the world, from the world. For us and from us.
That’s why God’s message rose out of the wilderness, out of the mouth of a wild man. Outside of Jerusalem’s walls. God’s message is most clearly heard in a wild space. Out in the wilderness, peoples’ imaginations were expanded and calibrated. John the Baptist and the place of his ministry was a wild space. John’s message - “Repent. The Lord is coming.” Repentance is a call for us to turn from the way we have been living our lives to see something else, to be something else. The word “turn” reminds me of circles. When John called people to repent, he was telling them to turn away from what the world wanted them to be - Roman, male, wealthy, healthy - and dwell in their own wild spaces. To see what the Lord wanted for them and from them and be baptized. God was preparing people to be able to recognize Jesus as his son, a son that came into this world as a powerless, helpless infant born in a barn.
The young woman who used the idea of wild spaces to make sense of her faith and her experiences in Rwanda saw God’s love among a people so different from her. Even though they lived in a different culture, in a very different part of the world, they loved and cared for her. That love has challenged her to come back here and be different. She saw a vision of God in the world. At the end of her sermon, she challenged all of us to cultivate our own wild spaces - to not be afraid and draw back, but to dwell in them. So I’m going to pass on that challenge to you.
Our wild spaces are the parts of us that don’t fit with what the world wants so, many times, we turn away from them for the sake of ease and comfort. But our wild spaces, the parts of us that don’t fit, are the parts of us that spark our imagination and connect us to God. “What if?” questions can be very helpful for sparking imagination. “What if?” questions help us to see possibilities for the future, other ways of living. What if I bought fewer clothes? What if I made a new friend? What if I started writing again? What if I checked Facebook less?
Since it’s just past the new year and many of us are trying to bring some freshness into our lives, I challenge you to listen for God’s call to repent, to turn away from the things the world values, consider the wild spaces in yourself, and ask “What if?” As you navigate your life, one day into the next, in and out of your wild space, may you find your ears and eyes opened, may you find yourself baptized with the Spirit again and again, and may you be ready to see Jesus.