Have you noticed that life is filled with deserts and desert experiences? If you haven’t encountered one yet, that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there…it means you haven’t encountered it yet. And most of us react predictably when we do confront it. “Really?” As my son would say. “Really God? You’re putting this wilderness in my path? Really? You want me to go through the desert, through the wilderness? Do you think I could just go around it? Could I drive my brand new escalade through it instead? Or buy a plane ticket so I just fly over it?”
A time of silence in the presence of God can be a treasured time of spiritual rest and nurture, but it isn’t always. More often it can be confronting and uncomfortable. It can be a time in which we feel more vulnerable to our doubts and anxieties.
The year was 700 B.C., and life had become like a desert to the people. Life is like that; life can become a desert, as many of you so well know. Life had become brown and burned out, dead and dry, with blowing sand.
The people were in captivity. Their capital city had been incinerated. Their religious temple had been destroyed. Their sons had been killed. Their king had been blinded by the enemy. Their cities and farms had been burned, and they had been in captivity for nearly fifty years. The people were feeling burnt and broken down.
It was then that the prophet Isaiah wrote these incredible words: “When the Messiah comes, your desert will bloom.” The prophet said, “I will make your wilderness a pool of water and your dry land, I will make into springs of water. I will put trees in your desert: the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle wood. I will plant trees in her desert, and I will make her desert like a Garden of Eden and her wilderness will be like the garden of the Lord. So shall it be when the Messiah comes. When the Messiah comes, your deserts will begin to bloom again.”
Perhaps John the Baptizer felt like he was back out in the desert as he sat in jail, waiting to be beheaded. Doubts and uncertainties begin to take hold in his mind and grow. When he baptized Jesus, he had no doubts, no questions whatsoever about who Jesus was, but now as he sits in his cell, he’s not so sure. Jesus hasn’t been quite the sort of messiah he’d been expecting. The arrival of this messiah on the scene has not turned the world upside down in quite the way he had imagined. Maybe he’d been wrong about Jesus. Maybe he’d misread the signs. So next time he has visitors, he sends them off to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we be looking out for someone else?”
Life can be like that. Life can be like a desert where life is dried up, burnt and brown. Such as after a death of a husband, wife or child. Life can become very dried up like a desert. It no longer makes sense. Those things we trusted in now seem pointless, empty.
Sometimes there are relational deserts. Relationships that have been built across many years and have passed through many seasons come to moments in time when those relationships seem to be nothing but a desert—dry, parched, negative
Sometimes there are economic deserts on our journey. Deserts where recession and depressions and unemployment and under employment, exist. Such as the time when a person loses a job and the loss of income and you don’t know where to turn because there seems to be nowhere to turn.
Sometimes sickness can become a desert. There have been times in my life, that I have battled with depression and struggled to find meaning and motivation and energy to do just everyday tasks.
For some people, Christmas can be a desert. I know people who are praying for Christmas to be over. Because life seems even more deserted at this time of year.
Life can be like that. Life can be like a desert. When joy and love dries up. When God seems so very far away. When love seems so very far away. When the marriage is dead. When the husband is dead. When the mom is dead. When the energies have died. Life can become like a desert.
In fact, somewhere along in your life and mine, life will be a desert for you. Inevitably, sometime, somewhere, someplace, each of us will walk a desert path.
The Word of the Lord is this: “When the Messiah comes, your deserts will bloom again.”
In the New Testament, the Messiah came. Jesus came to earth and found all kinds of people whose lives had become like deserts. Jesus helped those people’s lives to bloom again.
Yesterday, I attended the feast of Our Lady Guadalupe because my dear friend Coty, a native Mexican invited me. I knew nothing of this feast day so I looked her up. In 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a humble Native American at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City. It was duringa time of great horror and cruelty, only ten years after the defeat of the Indian nations. In his book, the Lutheran liturgical and historical theologian max Johnson says that Guadalupe is a dynamic parable of justification through grace…for it is through her that the entire country converted. Now on this date, December 23th, thousands of the faithful from all over the country make the most important pilgrimage of the year to the Basílica of Guadalupe, in Mexico City, where the miraculous image of la Virgen Morena is kept.
On the day before the great celebration, thousands and thousands of people start to arrive. Many of them make the trip from their place of origin by bicycle. Trucks follow them to provide assistance and for them to have a place to rest if necessary. The virgin of Guadalupe I learned yesterday was not seen with child, but she was seen as being pregnant. Pregnant with the child of Jesus, pregnant with hope, with possibility and dreams of peace.
Again and again and again and again and again, when Jesus came into people’s lives, their lives were like deserts and when Jesus left them, their deserts were blooming once more. When the Messiah comes into your life, Jesus helps the deserts of your life and mine to bloom again.
“How does he do it? How is it that he works the miracle and helps the deserts bloom?” It begins with water. You gotta have water to make the deserts bloom. And Jesus said, “I am the living water. Whoever drinks of me will never thirst again.”
To drink the living water means to have the Spirit of Jesus come inside of you. His forgiveness. His patience. His kindness. His moral values. His goodness. His compassion. To drink the living water is to have the Spirit of the Living God come and live within.
At first, you drink a little bit. A sip. A sip of the living water. Then you try a swallow. Then you drink a cup. Then a large glass. Then a bucket. And pretty soon, you don’t even know what is happening, but there are rivers of living water flowing into you and rivers of living water flowing out of you. The deserts begin to bloom when we experience the living water of God’s Spirit inside of us.
When the living water is inside you, you begin to dream dreams and imagine possibilities. Then your imagination goes to work. The imagination goes to work and asks the big question, “How can this desert blossom? God, what can you and I do to make this situation better? What can we do to make this situation better? You ask that question rather than, “God, what’s wrong with me? God, how come I have such a rotten place to live in? God, how come I have such a crummy life?” Then, when you move beyond those questions and feelings; when you finally begin drinking the living water, you ask another and more important question, “God, what can you and I do to help the deserts around me to bloom?”
Anyone who doesn’t think that miracles take hard work & patience doesn’t understand the nature of miracles. People often say, “God, you do it for me. Do it for me, God. Come down here and do the work for me.” That reminds me of my children at certain times in their young lives, Mom, you do it, it’s easy for you. “Come down and do the work for me, so I won’t have to work so hard.”
Like the fable of the woman who was discouraged and depressed. She was told that Jesus could take care of it. So she visited the world of Jesus. And she saw peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air. She loved this vision – she was so excited she began writing furiously and finally approached Jesus, handing him a long list. He skimmed the paper, and then smiling at her said, “No problem.” Reaching under the counter, he grabbed some packets and laid them out on the counter.
Confused, she asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied: “These are seed packets. You see, this is a catalogue store.”
Surprised the woman blurted out, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No,” Jesus gently responded. “This is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.”
“Oh,” she said, deeply disappointed in Jesus. Then she turned around and left the store without buying anything.
When the Messiah comes, the deserts will bloom. With Living water, Imagination, Hard work, Patience. Bethlehem teaches us about expectations, about signs, and about patience. God begins with a simple babe and humble surroundings and He works slowly, surely. But He is at work. He must have given you a vision or you wouldn’t be here? He must have given you a passion to be here today. He must have given you some beautiful seeds, some amazing dreams, and the abilities to grow them or you wouldn’t be here. What are they? Share them with each other. Make sure you don’t leave without planting them….for they are part of God’s plan, God’s reign, they are needed for the kingdom.