Advent 3A - Desert Souls

 Advent 3A’19

15 December 2019

Is. 35.1-10; Canticle 3;

Jam.5.7-10; Mt. 11.2-11

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the rose it shall blossom abundantly. Amen.

To fully appreciate a cool mountain stream, one only has to go through a desert. I remember a trip where Shannon, Emily and me, were driving through the New Mexico desert. It was an arid and barren plain and for miles and miles all you could see were extremely short evergreen bushes. The soil was rocky and dry and occasionally there would be a yellow crossing sign to break the monotony. Instead of having a deer on the sign like we would have here in Arkansas, they had a UFO to memorialize Roswell I suppose.

At any rate, as we drove along, I began to long for one of the lush green landscapes of the Natural State. In my mind’s eye I could see rushing streams flowing through the Ozarks and apple and peach orchards in bloom during the spring. But the desert was barren and that was our reality that day.

There is another type of barrenness and it was a condition that my wife and I would have never chosen but it was to be our lot. We would see other couples rolling their babies around in the mall or at a park and we would long for our own child. We kept hoping against hope but there was no baby.

Then we heard about an internationally known fertility clinic that was located in Little Rock. We didn’t know what to expect when we walked into the Arkansas Fertility Clinic but were pleasantly surprised to meet a caring physician and he gave us a lot of hope through the treatments they offered.  We went through a lot of preparation and trials – our patience was sorely tried. But finally, Shannon tested positive!

I will never forget the day of that first ultrasound. It was a day that I discovered something about the human anatomy that I had previously not understood. As the blood surged through the baby’s heart my eyes flooded with tears and I found out that my tear ducts were connected to Emily’s heart valve. On that very day such a flurry of activity began like I had never experienced. Suddenly we were in the club – the club called the “parent’s club!” Phone lines were nearly burned up with calls going in all directions across the US. Free advice started flying around like hummingbirds! The mailbox began filling up with coupons from places like Babies-R-Us, Pampers, Enfamil. Then there was the community of saints that began to gather around us – what an adventure, we were expecting – and the whole community was pregnant with the anticipation of a new life.

One of my preparations during this time was to read several books on parenting. One of the authors wrote that when it came to marriage having a baby was like taking a hand grenade and lobbing it into the house – nothing was ever going to be the same – and I found out the authors were spot on! To fully appreciate the miracle of pregnancy we had to travel through a desert of bareness. 

Noted theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said: “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

To fully appreciate the Christmas miracle we have to go through this season of expectant waiting the Church calls Advent. Advent is here to help us tune in and listen. As Madeleine L’Engle so eloquently put it in her book Miracle on 10th Street, “Advent is not a time to declare, but to listen to whatever God may want to tell us through the singing of the stars, the quickening of a baby, the gallantry of a dying man.[1]

Our scripture readings call us once again, to live adventurously, expectant with the hope of a coming King who will usher in the kingdom of God. A baby is coming and he will change everything - that is the miracle of Christmas. But before he comes, we must prepare our hearts by listening for God and watching for his signs.

The prophet Isaiah uses the metaphor of the desert blooming, of the blind beginning to see, of the deaf hearing, and the lame leaping like a deer and water flowing through the desert! The Psalmist in Psalm 146 tells of the signs of the Messiah’s arrival and reign: justice will be granted to the oppressed, food will be given to the hungry, prisoners will be set free, the blind will see, the downtrodden will be lifted up, strangers will be cared for and orphans and widows will find loving support! 

St. James gives some advent encouragement: “Be patient, therefore, beloved until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until the early and late rains. You also must be patient” James makes no bones about the suffering that is involved in waiting on God to come and to deliver.

When Emmanuel comes – when God comes among us new life will break out. As we listen and as we watch here’s a watch list of questions for us to consider:

  • Where is the bareness in our lives? Is it in our relationships, our career? In our mental and physical health?
  • Where are the places in our lives where we are deaf, blind and lame, keeping in mind that this can be spiritual blindness, deafness and lameness?
  • Where is there a lack of social justice? Who are people that are being oppressed and who is oppressing them?
  • Where are the hungry people in our world, and in our community?
  • Where are the people that are discouraged and beat down by life that need a helping hand?
  • Where are the strangers who need to be welcomed and granted a safe place to discover God, themselves and a community?
  • Where are their orphans and widows in need of support?

The answer to some of these questions is that sometimes the deserts and blindness are right here within our own selves and of those we love. Perhaps this is where Christmas is most needed -in our own hearts. I invite us to look within and listen for Christ’s coming.

At other times the need for God’s coming is in our own community of St. Luke’s. Right here there are folks that are having a tough time that need to know the love Christ in and through their brothers and sisters. Then there are many of the needs that lie beyond our walls.   I was struck a couple of weeks ago by something that was said by a representative from the Arkansas Rice Depot, she said that 1 out of 4 school children go to school hungry – 1 out of 4 children!  We don’t have to look to a third world country to find hunger – its right here in Arkansas! I am grateful for the ways we at St. Luke’s are reaching out to those in need through our clothes closet, through St. Francis’ House homeless veteran’s program, family promise, and most recently through Annie Lea’s Little Pantry. This is the activity of Christ among us!

When John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”

May we all be like an expectant mother, standing on our tiptoes with excitement and expectation, on the verge of a great adventure. The Latin root for the words “Advent” and “Adventure” are both the same – adventus and it means coming. A baby is coming and He will change everything. Let us prepare the way for the Lord by preparing our hearts. Until then let us watch and listen for the signs and seize the ‘advent adventure’ - to see Christ in the widows and orphans, in the poor and oppressed and in the stranger and to be Christ by sharing the Good News of Christ’s love in our words and with our deeds! Amen.


[1] L’Engle, Madeleine, Miracle on 10th Street, (Shaw Publishers: Wheaton, Ill) 1998, p.12

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