It is somehow delicious that, as winter revs up, our first and third readings have to do with desert experiences: the experiences of the captives, coming home from Babylon, and those of John the Baptist, precursor of Jesus, who also went to the desert.
You and I share in these biblical desert experiences, wherever we live, wherever we work or spend our time. The desert is anyplace where the integrity of our soul is tried, where the fabric of our lives is stretched to tearing, where our world is in mortal battle with the challenge to human values and where tragedy is an unwelcome companion.
It is within our own modern deserts, that we experience our own salvation, at the same time, accompanying others in the wilderness as they come to recognize and cherish salvation.
The voice of God speaks to us in the wilderness of unknowing what to do next, how to distinguish the devious from the good neighbor and, how to deal with pain, trauma and fear.
In the desert, God says to us: Stay Alert! The demons are waiting to stop us from doing our part to help build the Reign of God. In the breadth of our lives, we are exposed to moral wrong-doing and weakness, depression, addiction, loneliness and war. We travel through a variety of deserts, places within us and around us, that endanger or frighten us. Yet, as frightening as deserts may be, there is more. Isaiah describes the desert as a place of great beauty, and maybe we have seen that truth for ourselves: sweeps of sand, coiled into enchanting dunes, patterns of rose-tinted hues, concentrations of greens and copper,dry old creek beds ,and when the conditions are just right, the desert in bloom.
In the desert, we can be sure we are embraced by God. Comfort my people, God said in Isaiah. God has comforted us in the past and continues to do so. And we, in our turn, pass on that comforting embrace to those we serve.
When tempted in the desert and in the garden, Jesus needed the strength of God. Temptations were overcome, the goal was achieved and there was joy. Joy happens in life when the desert does not overcome us – when we reach quenching waters and find them, not as mirage, but real and refreshing, offering strength for the journey.
Isaiah, John and Jesus, Himself, in their desert moments, bid us all: ! Listen! Listen! Listen to God’s voice in your own wilderness, for surely you will hear the voice you long for.