"The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel."
Today is the feast day of the birth of St. John the Baptist. This man always amazes me because he had such a short time in the public eye, but made such a deep impact during that time. It's interesting to note the passage above. John grew up in the desert. He was there hidden away for many years before he became a household name. One wonders what those silent years were like. How was he trained and formed for the vital mission planned for him?
I believe John was first and foremost a holy man. This means he was a man of prayer. Time in the desert is time spent in prayer. God prepares many of His great men here. He did it for Moses, for Elijah, and even for our Lord. But John is especially characterized as being a man of the desert. When he begins his ministry, it would appear no one was around. John didn't go into nearby towns to promote his "preaching meetings". He simply appeared as "a voice in the wilderness." One imagines that he was first ignored, then ridiculed, and finally, they listened. This apparant crazy man in the desert was bringing people by the thousands to repentance. The Jordan was filled with the penitents as they sought him for baptism. After a short while his bright flame was extinguished. But the embers last for eternity. Today, we still hear him calling to us, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
But the thing that catches my attention most right now is the time he spent in the desert. No one likes the desert. It's dry, hot, uncomfortable. The food is lousy, if there is any. And it's lonely. There's no TV, no internet, no cell phone, or ipod. It's just John and the desert. Oh, and then there's God, of course. And that's the point. It takes cutting ourselves off from all the other distractions to be able to hear the voice of the Lord and develop the firm conviction of preaching His word and no other.
John was a special man appointed for a special purpose- to prepare the way of our Lord Jesus. But we all have a similar purpose. We are here to call the world around us from its frolicking in sin to genuine repentance "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." To be effective in this endeavor, we, like John, must be trained in the wilderness. We need time alone with God. We must endure our sufferings. We must listen closely to the whisper of God amidst the barren wastes of the desert.
Jesus, the King, lives and reigns in our midst. The kingdom is here because the King is here. But one day soon He will return to judge the living and the dead. There will be no two-minute warning. He will simply appear and time will cease. Then each of us will given an account of our lives before Him. Our words and our actions will all be played out before Him. Then He, the just judge of all, will render a just judgment for all. In light of all this, the words of John echo loud and clear through the portals of time: "Repent!"
Do we hear him? Will we respond?