– Natalie Aho, 2017
Mark 1.12: And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Have you ever been in the wilderness?
The dry, parched lands. The thirst. No sight of home. No good food.
No relief from the sun. Endless days and nights.
No hope to be found. Little sleep, no rest, and always the routine.
Our journeys through life may not be as physically challenging the desert, however, different times in life can be just as grueling and sometimes it is hard to find hope:
Should I keep this job?
Will we ever have kids?
Is it time for my mother to go into a nursing home?
Can I afford to send my kids to college?
Why is it hard to make friends?
Should I stick this marriage out?
How will I have this baby? (at least I think that’s what Mary would have wondered in Luke 1:34)?
These are agonizing, tormenting, decisions that cause us to lash out at others, lose sleep, and wallow in stress. We all share the humanity of wrestling with decisions. We want to follow God’s direction. And, if anything, we have learned that trying to go without God may only lead us to the belly of a whale. So, in our contemplating and analyzing, we struggle to know what DOES God want me to do?
Yet, sometimes there is just silence. God does not shout in our ear the direction to take. God does not write it on our walls or tell our friends the answers. God does not even send us an angel to tell us why this is happening to us (Luke 1:28-38). Elijah said he heard God in the still small whisper. And sometimes we do, too. But what about those times when we don’t hear anything at all?
It seems we are left to wander in our own wilderness trying to find the way to our promised land. We may seek comfort in friends and family, as Mary did with Elizabeth, or maybe we feel that we have no choice, as Joseph did when he contemplated quietly breaking off the engagement with Mary. Either way, we feel alone. Hope is hard to find.
We’ve framed the Advent season as the prelude to the birth of Jesus and when we picture it, we add three wise men, camels, shepherds and angels. But what if at our nativity scene, we added Moses, Abraham and David gathered around the manger?
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These Old Testament characters seem out of place in our Advent story. Yet, I wonder if think they point us toward the life we are asked to live in the light of the Advent miracle?
Can they help us put the struggles of Mary and Joseph into our own struggling lives?
When we are facing a period of wandering and feeling directionless, are we repeating the life stories shown to us in the Bible:
Moses and the Israelites – wandering for 40 years; Abraham following God’s call to “go to the land I will show you (not have shown you)”;
Solomon seeking to find the meaning of life; David running, hiding, trembling from his enemies;
prophets gone before us – Jonah, Jeremiah, Elijah; and finally questioning and concerned Mary and Joseph? Each has shown us that wandering and wondering is an unavoidable part of our humanity.
Sometimes it is our own doing: we stray from God and then forget what God’s voice sounds like. Other times, the wilderness is a part of our growth – to prepare us, prune us, mold us, and form us. There are times when it is not explainable, and we will not ever know the answer to why we are in this situation. However, when we are going through our wilderness, we can be comforted by looking at the whole of God’s story, to see that before each journey – God was there, during each journey – God is there, and at the end of each journey – God will be there.
Our journey will probably not be toward giving birth to the Son of God in a manger at the end of a day’s travel, but we will definitely receive assurance from the Son of God born to us 2,000 years ago. There is relief and hope in our deserts, and his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. May we keep wandering.
Prayer: Eternal God, sometimes our wandering feels long, dry, and aimless. Help us by assuring us that you are with us, each step of the way.