Christmas in the Desert

The season of Advent is good news for anyone looking for change: to all the weary, the grieving, the neglected, the broken of the world, God speaks through the prophet “Comfort, comfort My people…” (Isaiah 40:1), and Jesus echoes “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6) It is the needy who are looking for something good– not the ones who are already satisfied– and God promises that good will come to them if they are looking in the right places. The very word Advent means arrival; the answer to all God’s promises is coming at last in the birth of the Christ Child. Isn’t it obvious how the whole hungry world waits in anticipation? “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

The Christmas Story begins in the wilderness, like all the best stories do. Everyone loves tales of the downtrodden overcoming obstacles, and good triumphing over evil, and the heroes that bring happy endings. When we enter Advent, and begin to prepare our hearts for the birth of the Savior, it is the prophets in the desert places that we hear first: “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.. the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:3,5) It isn’t until you are in the dark that you long for a ray of light to break through– not till you find yourself in the wilderness that you search for the way to go. And the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the joyful news: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light….” (Isaiah 9:2)

In the darkest of times, over hundreds of years, when people had forgotten what mattered most, the prophets pointed to the coming Messiah: “You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout…say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!'” (Isaiah 40:9) This is the good news, that God Himself is coming to us, and He will bring healing and renewal. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…” (Isaiah 35:5-6) The prophet almost sings for the wonder of it, that all those dry and difficult places will be nothing more than opportunities to reveal God’s glory and power in our lives. Of course, one could say that this story actually started in the Garden in the Beginning, a seed planted by the Creator, and that would be true as well. One of Jesus’ followers verified that this was God’s intention all along: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1,4-5)

In the lights and glitter and busy-ness of the holidays you are liable to feel out of place if you are grieving, if you are desperately waiting for answers, if your life is in turmoil for whatever reason. But God is whispering comfort and hope to His people. Here in the beginning of Advent it is okay to be in a wilderness place. I can wait patiently for God’s answers and anticipate His power at work in my life. I can prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth– His arrival– with joy, because I already know how this story ends. The wilderness is just waiting to be transformed in His hands. Jesus has proven Isaiah’s words to be completely true: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners….” (Isaiah 61:1) Blessed are the ones who need Him the most, for He has come to be our Savior.


“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)


“When we are willing to watch and wait in the darkness until the Light comes — we practice being willing to sit with brokenness until resurrection comes.” (Ann VosKamp)