How are you doing with Advent so far this year? One woman told me during this last week that she felt pulled between her desire to use December as a season of anticipating Christmas and the anticipated celebration of Christmas in our culture. Christmas celebrations are in abundance. Too much too soon.
To make space for Advent in our life, we need to develop a desert mentality. That is, a place we go in our minds and hearts, to a space in our homes set aside for our God-times, to meet God and be renewed. At its worst, deserts are dangerous, inhospitable lonely places. But deserts are also places where we can be, grow, assess, wonder, be tested, encounter God. Jesus did it. So did John the Baptist before him.
Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist in the desert. He is the voice in the wilderness calling his hearers to prepare the way of the Lord. His words echo the words of Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord. Later, Jesus would say of John that “history has not known a man born of woman greater than John.” That’s quite a tribute.
John not only spent years of preparing the way of the Lord in the desert, the desert remained for him – an interior wilderness that threatened to overwhelm him. It would have been easy for him to die believing himself a failure, since he saw no satisfying completion of his work. The Messiah who came, his very cousin, was embarrassingly unlike the one he had preached about. Yet Jesus was attractive and John watched many of his followers leave him to follow Jesus. John was left to wonder if Jesus was the one to come or should he look for another. John was killed for the price of a dance, his head cut off at Herod’s command.
We experience our own wilderness or desert in the biblical sense – a place of testing where the integrity of our soul is tried, where the fabric of family life is stretched to near tearing, where communities are tried by tragedy and challenges to human values. It is within our modern wilderness experiences that the salvation promised by our God comes. The voice of God speaks to us out of the wilderness of illness or accidents, wildfires, the wilderness of a destructive relationship with a spouse, children, friends or employer, the wilderness of a moral wrongdoing, depression, loneliness, war or business noise, the wilderness of working for justice and peace in a less than conscious, less than welcoming world. This list is not exhaustive. There are other desert places also that endanger and frighten us.
But it is also here in our own deserts that we find the comfort of God. Think back to Jesus’ own temptations in the desert, they were overcome and then there was joy. Joy happens in our life when the wilderness has not overcome us, when we reach quenching waters and find them not a mirage, but real.
This week, as with John the Baptist, we come to recognize our own personal wildernesses or the deserts of our society and world, we can take heart. God is with us in the desert.
~Sister Joan Sobala