Advent 3: Gifts In The Wilderness

Lectionary Readings for December 15, 2013: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Advent Calendar (Cycle A) and guidance for using the lectionary

“The desert of which I speak is a desert of the spirit: a place of revelation, conversion, and transformation… It involves being ‘made over’, being made new, being ‘born again’… In the desert we wait, we weep, we learn to live.”—Alan Jones, Soul Making

The first time I experienced a real wilderness was when I visited the Masada fortress on the eastern edge of Israel’s Judean desert. The story of the first-century Jews who were besieged by the Romans and eventually lost their lives at Masada was both sobering and inspiring. But just as stirring for me was the vast desert surrounding the 1,300-foot plateau on which the fortification was built.

It was a striking scene: The stark contrast of sand and sky, the vastness of the wide open spaces, the uncompromising heat of the sun, the brilliant beauty of a few desert flowers, the deep silence of the landscape. There was also the simplicity of life reduced to the basic necessities—good shoes, simple clothing, a water bottle, and light nourishment—and the delightful refreshment of our bodies in the waterfalls of the Ein Gedi oasis at the end of the day. We seemed to need so little out in the desert and yet the presence of God was so, well, present.

The Scripture readings this week resonate deeply with the truth I discovered in the desert: there are beautiful and lasting gifts to be found in the wilderness places of our lives if we are brave enough to go there. But two things are needed in order to receive these gifts: patience to wait for God’s timing in all things, and realistic expectations. Jesus says, “What did you expect to find in the wilderness? Someone dressed in soft robes?” In other words, did you really expect the spiritual journey to be full of luxury? Did you expect it not to require anything of you? Think again!

The journey into the wilderness will require shedding just about everything you always thought you needed. But it will also give you everything. The Holy Way will open up right there in the wilderness and those who are courageous enough to walk in that Way will obtain that which is everlasting.

Holy One, there are barren places in my life that I am avoiding by trying to find my own way out. Help me to trust that if I follow you into the wilderness of the spirit and wait with you there, you will meet me with gifts I might never receive any other way.

©Ruth Haley Barton. 2013. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center.  A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

If you are joining us for week 3, you might want to also access other eReflections in this Advent series:
Read Advent 1—The Importance of Waking up
Read Advent 2—Joyful Preparations

Where in your life are you resisting entering a wilderness place—a place that requires letting go of things you think you need?

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Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest (Oct 2022).
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[…] Reflections from Ruth Haley Barton […]

Wow, so very helpful for us as a couple at this time in our lives. We are in a bit of a wilderness experience. My husband and I moved out west to be closer to our daughter and very young grandchildren. Advent has taken on such deep significance this year as my husband looks for meaningful work . Waiting means a lack of control. And yet we have seen so many ways God is providing….not everything at once but step by step as is needed. Amid freezing cold temperatures one is thankful for a warm apt. When feeling discouraged we just need to look into the faces of grandchildren and hear “Nana or Papa”. Or the day our daughter came over with a bag of extra groceries. Thank you Lord for helping us to see and experience you in such beautiful and meaningful ways.

I am trying hard to let go of excessive sleep. I desire to be a person who wakes up in the stillness of the morning and spend time with God but I am having a hard time overcoming sleeping in.

One idea would be to ask God to wake you up and then when he does, go ahead and get knowing that he wants to spend time with you.

Such beautiful and important reminders! Thank you so much, Ruth!

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