How do I get out of the wilderness? It’s a question I get asked often. When you’re a therapist and you write a book with the subtitle Finding God in the Wilderness Places, you’re inviting hard questions.
Advent offers a clue. While the first week of Advent focused on Christ’s promised coming, and while the second focused on how we wait and long in the process, this week’s focus is on finding hope and joy in the waiting. It seems the wise men and women who crafted the Advent calendar and its weekly biblical texts anticipated we’d need a bit of hope by Week 3. And so, in their wisdom, they offer several hopeful texts, including Isaiah 35:1-10.
Now, here’s what’s fascinating. It’s a text so relevant to us but written for refugees long ago – men and women captured, taken from their homes (which were destroyed), and cast into exile. These were people who experienced intense pain, ripped from family, friends, and home, and burdened by the agony of God’s abandonment, as well. And yet, into this desperate wilderness circumstance, Isaiah speaks hopeful words:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be made glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom…they shall see the glory and majesty of God.
“Are you out of your mind, Isaiah?” they’d ask. Feeling powerless and abandoned, they’d wonder how God could do such a thing. He would respond, however:
I’ll strengthen your weak hands, and make firm your feeble knees. Be strong, and do not fear.
“Easy for you to say, Isaiah,” they must have responded. In fact, sometimes the people who frustrate me that most are the ones who say, “Don’t worry, it’ll all be alright.” Do you know people like this? We all do. They mean well. But, I suspect God had a much bigger vision in mind.
Here’s the picture God would paint:
I’ll build a highway right through the desert, and it will be called ‘The Holy Way.’ And those who are freed will return home while singing…sorrow and sighing will fade away.
It turns out, their wildest dreams came true, but in a way better and more fantastic than they could imagine. God did get them home, but his ‘highway project’ included bolder aspirations, a bigger rescue.
It’s a rescue that pointed to the very first Christmas.
You see, this God isn’t in the business of simply building dirt roads or single lane county roads. God isn’t into temporary solutions.
No, God is in the business of making Super-Highways.
Years later, God would speak to an old man named Zechariah, too old to have children, frightened at the appearance of an angel who announced that, indeed, he and his barren wife would have a child, and that this child would announce God’s new highway project (Luke 1:12-13). Zechariah, scared out of his wits, needed God’s comfort. Once again, God says:
Do not fear.
An angel would also appear to a virgin named Mary, who shuttered at the reality that she’d been specially called by God (Luke 1:30). Guess how God would respond:
Do not fear.
The ‘Super-Highway’ project would be commissioned by God and announced by John the Baptist, an eccentric desert dweller and the son of Zechariah, saying:
Prepare the highway of the Lord. Make the paths straight. Raise the valleys and lower the hills, straighten the crooked paths and smooth the rough ones. All will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3:4-6)
No fooling around here. God was up to something big.
And the great highway paver would be Jesus, himself, whose mother was also told not to fear. She’d witness the very first Christmas, as her son would be born – in exile, amidst suffering – and yet would accomplish the unthinkable. Jesus would, in fact, remove every obstacle, every barrier, bridging the chasm between us and God. The highway would be built – a full-service highway – with a God who makes sure we stay on the road toward Home.
Sometimes, in moments when I feel most alone and wonder where God has gone, I think of God’s words. Do not fear. And anticipating Christmas, I remember again what we celebrate, that God came to us, and dwells with us – in union – even when I don’t feel it. The road doesn’t always feel straight. The path is strewn with obstacles. But, as St. Paul says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
So, strengthened for the journey and fixed on the destination, we keep our eyes ahead, anticipating that hope of Christmas once again, a reminder that we need not fear, that God has paved a way Home.
- Can you relate to the question – How do I get out of the wilderness?
- How does it feel that God is, indeed, paving a way through the wilderness?
- When you hear the words “Do not fear?”, is it hard to believe? Is it encouraging that God speaks to your anxieties just as he spoke to Mary and Zechariah many years ago?
- How does the hope of Christmas and its promise of God’s rescue encourage you today?