But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. The wild animals in the fields will thank me, the jackals and owls, too, for giving them water in the desert. Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my chosen people can be refreshed. I have made Israel for myself, and they will someday honor me before the whole world.
The Promise is coming. The floors of heaven are about to split open and release the Savior. No more prophecies. The waiting is almost over.
But before the Messiah arrives, his cousin, John the Baptist enters the world. A strange man. A living paradox. Born into a “well-to-do” family, John becomes a hippie. He “invents” a form of baptism with water, but claims another comes after him who baptizes with Spirit and fire. He appears strangely confident, yet remarkably humble.
Who is this man?
Who cares, right? The Promise is almost here.
Pump the brakes, friend. Overlooking John the Baptist would be a tragic mistake. About him, Jesus will later say, “Of all who ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.” We must breathe this reality into the depths of our being.
Before God fulfills his promises, he prepares the way.
John the Baptist is a huge player in Advent. He’s the bridge between the prophecies and the Promise. Someone or something must till the spiritual ground, make it fertile. The path to transformation goes through the wilderness.
John’s life is a wake-up call to our impatient, impulsive, narcissistic culture. We want the spotlight without the darkness. We want to build God’s kingdom without allowing God to tear ours down. We want to be filled without being emptied. We want the Resurrection without the Cross
And in today’s world, it’s easier than ever to buy this illusion, that we don’t need the wilderness. Or even worse, that we can by-pass it, that we can step right out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
I wish this were true. But friends, it’s just not. And anyone who has ever been through the wilderness will agree. Eventually, life will fall apart. You will be forced outside of what’s safe and comfortable, with no choice but to rely on God. Any attempt to deny this reality only creates more pain and suffering.
In the wilderness, God empties us. He strengthens our spiritual roots. The wilderness tests our motives and desires. There’s no audience to perform for. No one to impress or entertain. It’s here that God reveals who we really are, what we really value.
The wilderness sucks. I’ll be honest. It’s painful. Often times, it’s lonely and secluded. Tears come and go like a summer storm. We question God. We doubt his plans. But it’s here, in this barren land, in the vast plains of isolation, that God teaches us to trust him. It’s here that faith moves us beyond doctrines and dogmas into something that’s more intimate. It’s here that God empties us of life’s vanities so he can fill us with more of himself.
Every wilderness is different. A season of depression. The death of someone you love. Severe doubts about God. Divorce. But we should not run from the wilderness. We should trust God through it. We should rest in his goodness and trust that he’s leading us somewhere, that’s he’s preparing the way.
Grace and peace, friends.
Why do you believe the wilderness is important?
Father, thank you for seasons in the wilderness. Build deep spiritual roots in my heart. Fill me with perseverance, keep my heart fixed on Hope. In my pain and suffering, show me new layers of your glory. Amen.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.