Wilderness: barren wasteland; scorching desert by day; bone-chilling badlands at night. Wilderness is the territory of danger and desolation. Jackals prey in the wild; marauders raid from the shadows; nothingness extends beyond the horizon in every God-forsaken direction. It is the province of the outcast, the exiled, the refugee fleeing from terror, the wanderer without a home or a safe place to rest.
In today’s text, Jerusalem has fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The Babylonians have destroyed the Temple and carried the leading citizens from their homeland into Babylonian captivity. They find themselves despised, oppressed, displaced, and dispossessed. They fear they have wrought God’s wrath, that God has judged them and found them detestable, that God has abandoned them to the schemes and shackles of their captors.
And against all hope, God speaks to them with tenderness. Of all things, God says, “Comfort my people.” God is with them. However deep the valley of despair, however high the mountain of oppression; however rough and uneven the barren ground of hunger and affliction, the compassionate God is with them. And God’s compassion brings the balm of comfort.
We often find ourselves in the wilderness as well. Vast arid plains of grief; the endless glare of aloneness; sweltering canyons of persecution; swirling sandstorms of despair; the soul-stealing pillagers of violence and poverty, bigotry and injustice. Our hearts cry out. How long can we go on depleted and beaten down, banished and abandoned?
Isaiah reminds us that God hears our Advent cry and speaks a tender word. A word that will stand forever. “Comfort. Take comfort. I am with you. Even in the wilderness.”
Within whatever wilderness I may wander, help me, God, to know you are with me. Like a healing spring in the desert, you comfort me. Amen.
Hopeful anticipation characterizes this week’s texts. God’s people have come to terms with their inability to save themselves. Isaiah 40 states that Jerusalem has “served her term” in bondage to sin; a new era is about to dawn. Psalm 85 continues the theme of old sins forgiven, emphasizing an urgent need for some fresh outbreak of God’s initiatives. Harmonious and responsible relationships are to dominate the hearts of the people. Thoughts of righteousness and peace also pervade the passage from 2 Peter 3. Yet the focus is clearly on Christ’s Second Advent. His coming will be sudden and unannounced; the new creation will then appear. The Gospel text focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus as John the baptizer comes to sensitize all hearts to the advent of the One promised long ago.
• Read Isaiah 40:1-11. God’s word of comfort brings challenge as well: How are you preparing the way of the Lord?
• Read Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13. What glimpses of heaven in your daily life give you con dence in God’s steadfast love?
• Read 2 Peter 3:8-15a. How are you using this time of Advent waiting to move toward more faithful living?
• Read Mark 1:1-8. John identified himself as “messenger.” How would you identify your role in working toward the reign of Christ?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.