God Comes to Us in Unlikely Places
On the first Sunday in Advent, we remember that Christ comes to us in darkness. Jesus was born at night, in a messy stall. This indicates that his presence, our healing, and our salvation, are always taking place in the dark and messy parts of life. During this season of encroaching darkness, we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World, which dispels the darkness. An integral part of Advent involves the lighting of candles, whose tiny, pathetic flames stand defiantly against the night. They say, “No matter how much waiting—and working—lies between now and the dawn, we are not giving up hope.”
The second Sunday in Advent continues the theme of longing and expectation, but the focus shifts from God coming to us in darkness to God coming to us in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of solitude, a place without all the comforts of home, a place where people are put in a position of having to rely on God, in order to survive. And that is a good place to be. God does some of his best work in the hearts of his people out in the wilderness.
When we think of wilderness, we think of a mountainous, thickly wooded place with wild rivers like West Virginia or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But in Bible times a wilderness was a desert—a place where nothing grew because there was little or no water. So, when you think of a wilderness as the Bible presents it, don’t think of West Virginia or Michigan. Think of a place like Arizona or West Texas—desert.
The desert is a place of thorns, sagebrush, and dust where nothing grows. The desert cannot sustain life. It’s a place of thirst where there is no water. There’s no bread in the desert. You can’t till the sand and plant wheat in the desert. It’s a place of thirst, hunger, and loneliness.
The desert can’t support a community and life. Until air conditioning and irrigation came to Arizona, no one lived there. It was simply uninhabitable.
But God inhabits the desert, and as a rule, that’s where you meet God. Where was Moses when he met God in the burning bush? In the desert. And Jacob, when he met God through a wrestling match, where was he? In the desert. Why is the desert the place to meet God? Because the desert is a place where you can’t stay alive without the intervention of God.
In the desert, all the wells go dry and all your bread goes moldy. So God leads his people into the desert to worship and he provides for them by bringing water from the rock to drink and manna from heaven to eat. In the desert, apart from the saving intervention of God, you have no hope at all.
Most of us don’t see our true dependency on God until we go through a desert experience. A desert experience is when something you have looked to as your real hope breaks down and fails you. It could be a job or a husband or a wife. It could be your kids. It could be any number of things.
Since God comes to us in the wilderness, it stands to reason that God’s representative would be a “wild man.” In the first chapter of Mark, we are introduced to a wild-looking man in the wilderness. He’s a PK (priest’s kid), but he dresses like a prophet, cloaking himself in a garment made of camel’s hair. His diet is also rather wild—locusts and wild honey.
John appears in the wilderness, preaching a message calling for repentance and baptism. But John preaches something else. He preaches the message of Advent—the King is coming. Prepare to meet him. He will come to you in what may seem to an unlikely place, but is actually the most likely of all places to meet God—the wilderness.