John the Baptist appeared in the desert
As I read last week’s Gospel in an Advent reflection group, these words jumped out at me.
We associate the desert with pain, suffering, danger. It is the place of the spiritually parched. A place where one is on the brink of death, perhaps only just hanging on. A place bereft of life. It is barren.
The desert is where we die of thirst.
John the Baptist appeared in the desert.
I decided to turn to Sacred Scripture. The desert or the wilderness is mentioned over and over but my first thoughts were for the story of Exodus.
The Israelites travelled through the desert after they crossed the Red Sea. Although they had escaped slavery, they were faced with a new threat. For three days they found no water and when they came across water at long last, it was bitter.
But rather than despair, Moses turned to the Lord, crying out to Him and of course the Lord responded. “The LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Ex 15: 25 RSV)
When faced with this world’s valley of tears, when lost in the desert, when wandering in the wilderness, the Lord responds by showing us the tree of his cross. It is ony through uniting the bitter trials of this life with the cross that they become sweet. Even more so, by uniting our sufferings to the cross, they become a means of sanctification through which we move closer to perfect union with God. For Our Lord instructs us to take up our cross and follow him, explaining that we must lose our lives.
Why.are we to lose our lives? We lose our life in order to gain new life, the fullness of life that is found in perfect union with God. I don’t think it is a co-incidence that the Israelites were without life-giving water for three days since it foreshadows the three days when Christ lay dead in a tomb and our world was bereft of He who bears the water of life. But as we profess in the Creed, on the third day he rose again: through His death that we experience the glorious joy of the Resurrection.
This Scripture especially speaks to my heart when I think about sin. When St Peter reflected on how he denied Christ, “he went out and wept bitterly“. I have denied Christ through particular sins and though I may not weep, I feel the bitterness of my sin.
But I do not need to despair. Instead, I can take my burdens to Christ in confession. Here, through His great sacrifice on the cross, the Lord takes what is bitter and makes it sweet through sacramental absolution and the great gift of His forgiveness.
When in the valley of tears through my own fault, when lost in the desert through my own fault, when wandering in the wilderness through my own grevious fault, the Lord responds by showing me the tree of His cross
My heart may still feel sad but my mind knows that it is a time of great thanksgiving and joy for the Lord is truly kind and merciful.
O give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever.