Each man who crossed the horizon was another who might be the one John was waiting for. From his very inception, his entire life was about pointing toward the savior and preparing the way for him. So each new set of footsteps over the dunes, each shadow, and each “Are you John?” held a moment of hope, followed by the repeated grief that once again it was not him. Yet these were souls in search of their God as well. Men, women, and children who were also waiting for their savior and wandering into the desert in search of an answer. The roller coaster of hope and regret only took a second; with minutes and hours afterward of teaching and preaching that one day it would be the savior among them.
When days passed without anyone coming to the river, that was when John questioned why he was there. Since birth his mother and father had told him the story of his birth. Of how he was the miracle of their lives and how long they had both waited and prayed for him. Of how he was a gift from Adonai and was to have a life that would bring great change. And of how he was to be the one to lead others to the savior. From his first moments in the womb and first breaths in the world, John had a purpose greater than his own. That purpose drove his studies of the scriptures, of his time in the temple, of his long nights at his father’s feet, listening and questioning. And finally that was the purpose that led him on a journey into the desert.
His purpose was to be somewhere among these dunes of sand. Every breath confirmed that fact. But he didn’t know when. And sometimes he didn’t know why. Why would he meet the savior here in the desert, rather than in the temple or in the king’s court? Why was he called to spend years burnt by the sun, speaking to seekers and mockers? Why him? These were the questions that filled him when the sun beat down and only the wind sounded across the plains. On the days when a new wandered or a family came to him, there was no time for his own questions. Instead it was about responding to the questions of others. And when their questions echoed his own, John smiled and preached that they all had to have faith.
During a recent festival, John had left his camp for a day, to journey near the city. He walked for hours the direction trails of footprints led him. It was nearly sundown when he reached a hill overlooking a small community. Torchlights shown as neighbors mingled with neighbors, friends, and family. Music from multiple homes intersected and drifted toward him with the evening breeze. The breeze also brought smells of a home he had left years before. Of unleavened bread and roasted lamb. John leaned against a rock, closing his eyes and thinking of his mother and father. He could almost taste his mother’s Friday night supper. He could almost feel his father’s loving embrace.
After a few hours, on the edge of the city, John opened his eyes to see the moon shining down. It lit the path into the city, and in the opposite direction the one back to his camp. It would take only a few more minutes to get to the city gates. A short time longer to find a shelter and the promise of a good meal. It would be an easy journey and no one would fault him for walking that way. Anyone would.
With one last deep breath, John turned toward the longer path, back to his camp in the desert. He could remember and question, and still know that his purpose was at the end of the journey back.