Why would God send John the Baptist or anyone to the desert to announce the coming of Christ? It seems absurd. Shouldn’t they go to downtown Jerusalem or to the temple or a place where there are many people. The desert is empty; it lacks water, food, people, and life. But perhaps there is a spiritual meaning for us today.
The desert could be your loneliness or sickness or old age or that you feel ignored by family and friends. It could be your pride or lust or greed that cannot be overcome. For most of my life my mom was my desert. I wanted her to be different. In your desert, God sends a prophet. Why does he do this? Because he loves you. The prophet may be your wife or a friend or a word you heard recently in church. It would be impossible for the Church to be active today without so many prophets, and especially without so many female ones. Imagine if there was no St. Claire or St. Teresa of Avila or St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Or if there was no St. Faustina or Edith Stein or Mother Theresa. The Church would surely be different.
To be in the desert means to be alone in your sins. This is what sin does; it alienates us and fosters a selfishness or independence that leads us to believe we are better than the others. A priest was saying recently that he has that desire to be special for someone. I sense this is a very common temptation, and one that should be strongly rejected. It is crucial to see that in some way you are in a desert and not to despair. God has sent a prophet to you, and for you. You cannot get out by yourself. You need someone to lead you. By yourself it would take you ten times longer to get out of that desert.
What changes the heart of man? Is it a spouse or a friend making demands to stop smoking or drinking? What is effective in getting you and me to turn around, to live in a different way? Demands are useless. The person would like to drink less or be more generous or more chaste or more whatever. But he cannot. What helps a person to change is to have a deep sense or experience that he or she is loved, despite their sins, and especially in their sins. Only God can do this or a person who has the spirit of God. Love is the only thing that changes heart, that helps someone.
It is easy to love the person who is patient, faithful, generous, self—giving, who does all things well. But to love ourselves or others who are stuck in drugs or who are unfaithful, we cannot. But in that situation you can encounter God. In that desert you can find him. God didn’t cause that desert, but he allows it as a way to help you. The teen-ager who has an addiction or who flunks out of school is loved infinitely by God. If only you and I had a little bit of this spirit.
If you find yourself in a spiritual desert, wait for God. Don’t try to escape or hide or turn to some bad habit. God has sent or is about to send you a prophet. Imagine the manger in Bethlehem how full of animals and bad odors and its dampness. We make it look pretty but the reality was totally different. In that filthy place, in that garbage dump, the Son of God was born. It was not an accident. If your heart or your life is like that manger, be convinced that Christ wants to enter it. Don’t say no, no, it smells too much. It is too dirty for anyone to enter. Allow yourself to be transformed. That loneliness or sickness can be turned into something beautiful for you. God can make it into something marvelous and you will be filled with joy. Wait for him to enter your heart this Advent; wait and pray that he may come soon.