Hearing the word “desert” in a new key

It is a simple enough phrase we hear in Advent readings. “The word of God came to John in the desert…” How many times have I heard it before? This last Sunday I heard it as I never heard before. The Second Sunday of Advent has come and gone. And I am still chewing on the fact that the word of God came to John in the desert!

I realized the word of God coming to John in the desert could be a symbol of the word of God coming to us in the deserts of our lives!

The deserts of our lives

Desert moments occur in just about everybody’s life.

  • When we feel abandoned and lonely, we are in deserts.
  • When we experience betrayal and feel forlorn, we are in deserts.
  • When we encounter failure and rejection, we are in deserts.
  • When we get misjudged and abused, we are in deserts.
  • When loved ones get ill and their earthly end looms in the horizon we are deserts,

These are desert moments that so many of us can connect with.

How do we live in our desert times?

When we are in the desert, we need to remember that God is still with us. He has promised, “I will be with you”.  Repeatedly in the Scripture when God’s men or women were afraid in the face of dangerous situations, hopeless circumstances, impossible tasks, God said, “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you.”

We want to say, “Well, how are You going to do this? How are You going to get me out of this? How are you going to provide? How are you going to give me water in my wilderness? How are you going to bring food? How are you going to bring this? How are you going to solve that?” And God says, “I will not give you all those answers. All you need to know is I am with you. I’m with you now, and I will be with you each step of the way through this desert.”

I know that is what I want to say. Yet I also know I only made sense of the various deserts I have been in after I have come out.

It happened to Moses. It happened to Jesus. It happened to the apostle Paul.

That John, and even Jesus, the Son of God Himself, has gone through a desert experience, makes me realize that it is part of life. It’s okay. You can get through the deserts. You can make it in the deserts. Jesus did it. He endured it, and it’s possible for us to endure it.

The words of the poet came back.

“But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”

I realized that Advent hope involves living in darkness and longing for the hope that paradoxically came and is coming in the unexpected form of a helpless baby.