Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Mark 1: 1-8
“Comfort, give comfort to my people.” It is believed that this passage from the prophet Isaiah today were some of the inspiration of the great 20th Century “I have a dream” speech. If you listen to the words of Martin Luther King in that speech you can hear the prophet Isaiah speaking. And like many of the great prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist in today’s gospel, and MLK, it is often their message, their message of change, that eventually does them in. People don’t want to hear it; they don’t want to hear that they have to change, and change is so often the message of these prophetic voices. We need to change our ways.
So often that message of change in Scripture comes with an invitation to journey into the desert. It is a message that seems to be reserved to the Lenten season and yet today, here in Advent, we find people in the first reading and gospel in the desert.
The Israelites whom Isaiah speaks to find themselves on the cusp of returning home but with the realization of being in the desert and in exile they don’t go home the same people. Home has changed and they have changed. And like them, anytime we find ourselves in that transition of life there is some fear…fear that we will go back to our old ways, back to what we are comfortable with, even though the journey into the desert breaks us from those comfortable things! So, the message today from Isaiah today is one of hope…that God has been with them on this journey and God will continue to be with them on this journey as they make their way back home; God understands the challenges and offers comfort to his people who are making their way back home a changed people.
In the gospel, the people aren’t being led out into the desert like the Israelites, but are going out to hear the message. Now John knew his history well enough to know that the desert was this place that was uncomfortable and moved people from the comfortable ways of life so the desert was the prime place to give message. The irony is, knowing their history of the desert, they still go out in droves to hear him speak and to hear this message of change. Notice it’s not the leaders going out; they lived in fear of his message, but rather its the people going to be led to conversion, and experience of God, and to go home a changed people. Once one goes to the desert, there is no going home the same.
Now obviously we can’t go physically to the desert here, but we can go to the desert of our lives…to those uncomfortable places within us that challenge us, the darkness, the sufferings and struggles, the fears, the places we don’t want to go. That’s our desert and this season invites us into those places with a God who has compassion and walks the journey with us. The invitation this season is into the desert of our lives so that God may give birth within us as well, to something new. We go home a changed people. We should go home a changed person from this Eucharist and the encounter of the living God. We go on this journey into the desert hoping for new, hoping for a birth not only on Christmas, but everyday of our lives.