Advent Pt. 3 John, A Desert Voice


Hope in desert places

We stood in a hospital room this past week, praying over a beautiful two year old girl who is fighting for her life. The tubes coming out of her in multiple directions and the bandages covering her head painted a bleak picture. We prayed over her parents, utterly consumed and confused by what was happening to their precious daughter. We prayed the night prior, multiple people uttering prayer after prayer. We have prayed through the past two years, multiple times, together, by ourselves, in large groups and small, loudly and softly.

We pray . . . We pray . . . We pray . . .

Until it seems we exhausted all hope.

I’ve been thinking about hope a lot lately; how it comes to me and how I hold on to it. How do I know when hope has failed me or when we’ve just held on to it for too long? How do I hope in the midst of impossibly broken circumstances? In the midst of pain I’m not sure anyone can bear? How do we “boast in the hope of the glory of God” when precious little girls contract rare diseases they did not ask for and the suffering presses in close and threatens to engulf us?

I tend to want more than simply an idea of hope. I want real, tangible hope that sees resolution to the pain I see around me. I hope for healing for the sick babies and for my friends to see their daughter walk. I hope for an end for abuses of women and children. I hope for the people I’ve hurt to forgive me and for my grief and anxiety to just ease on up.

I hope . . . I hope . . . I hope . . .

Until I do not know if I can risk hoping anymore.

My hope seems to run dry at times; as dry as any desert.

Out of the desert comes a voice, one calling in the wilderness. Out of a dry, barren, unyielding place springs a voice declaring the world is about to change for the one who is coming. The voice belongs to the radical John the Baptist, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, declaring the Messiah is coming.

This message of coming Messiah does not seem to have been idle talk for John. He lived this message, in the desert, in his clothing, in his choice of food. He's lived his message so fully, the masses came to him. They could not stay away.

They flocked to hear this message because it pointed to their utter need for salvation and it pointed to the one who carried their hope of salvation.

However, we only meet John the Baptist at the end as hope is actually arriving. Israel had not seen a prophet in over 400 years with no inkling of when the Messiah was coming. We don't see the nights John the Baptist spent alone in the desert; the energy it took in the beginning to get up day after day when no one was showing up. Surely he questioned whether he would actually see and meet the Messiah. Surely he questioned whether his message of hope would actually see its fulfillment. Surely there were days when he had to fight to fully believe the message he professed.

I have had the song “King of My Heart” on repeat the last few days, repeating the chorus “You are good. You are good. You are good.” Over and over again, willing my heart to believe what my mind knows. “You’re never going to let me down because you are good.” Because if He is good, then He has to show up in a child’s hospital room. In some form or fashion, He has to show up. And my heart wars to believe Jesus will actually show up into the situations I fear He has deserted.

I do not know how the pain we see can exist in a world created by a good God. This tension exists and we cannot escape it. I am convinced though that the work we must do is to enter the desert places and speak hope with everything we have to ourselves and to others. In the midst of uncertainty, when we fear the fight is lost, we must declare hope to those who need it most.

We do not fear the desert spaces but make our residence in the middle of it. We curse the cruelty of the desert spaces in our lives and with the same breath praise the King who is coming. For He most certainly is coming. And in His coming will make right what has been lost and call life forth from the death of the desert. We are torn apart by the pain we find there but are rebuilt by the truth that He will come.

And Jesus shows up. And when He does, we lift our voices and call out in the desert: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

As John the Baptist did, we take our cue from Isaiah:

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

The Lamb of God is coming to hospital rooms and He is coming to illness.

He is coming to depression and anxiety and He is coming to addiction.

He is coming to broken relationships and He is coming to the hurting and lost.

He is coming . . . He is coming . . . He is coming.