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Second Sunday of Advent- The Advent Desert

Posted: 8 Dec 2018

“What did you go out into the desert to see?.....” “Why did you go out?” 

Matthew 11:7,9 

It was in the desert that Israel had come to know God. 

Carl Kazmierki 

The desert is not a place of isolation, but one of encounter. 

Andre Neher, 1988

Advent in a subtle way, plunges us directly and without hesitation into the desert experience. The desert is not a sentimental or romantic place to dream about; it is bare, austere, empty, desolate, and there is no place to hide in its confines. It is just what it is: the desert. Advent, similar to lent in many ways, implies and really requires a sojourn into the depths of the desert. 

Like John the Baptist, God asks us to journey into the desert for a very specific purpose: to prepare the way of the Lord. More than ever, we need to find ourselves in an empty place, in the bare reality of the wilderness. We are too busy otherwise- like Martha, “worried about many things”- to adequately provide our undivided attention to “only one thing”. The desert helps us to strip off all unwarranted necessities and face squarely our own sinful reality, our naked and broken humanity, in utter need of redemption. 

John the Baptist grew up in the wilderness. This rather stark desert figure seemed to have intimidated many. His austere message of repentance was a two-edged sword to those who listened to him. And yet, precisely because of it, he was chosen by the Almighty to prepare the way of the Lord. He thus became “the voice of one crying out in the desert”, the one called to make straight the path leading to God’s “Anointed One.” 

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” From John the Baptist we learn the desert is a place for cleansing, for conversion, for fasting, for silence, for self-discovery, and ultimately for healing. It is a place to let go of multiple earthly attachements, making room for the Lord by allowing God to enter fully into the innermost of our lives, yes, of our broken lives in utter need of his compassion and healing. 

The desert if also the place for pursuing the “patient waiting” attitude that God demands from each of us. The patient waiting attitude is similar in many ways to that “patient endurance” counselled by the Apostle Paul. It demands true patience, and it also means hard work. This patient waiting attitude is inspired by deep faith and trust in God, and is the work of constant prayer under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Doing this time of patiently waiting for the Lord’s arrival, he asks from each of us complete trust and openness to his particular designs for our lives, complete and total co-operation with that which he wishes to accomplish in us. When Christmas, the Lord’s Day, arrives, we shall then discover the truth of the prophetic words: “the wilderness and the parched land (of our hearts) will exult; the Arabah (desert) will rejoice and bloom” (Isaiah 35:1). 

Br. Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourette 
“Monastry Journey to Christmas” 
Copyright 2011 
Liguori Publications 
Liguori, Missouri 63057