We can never have too much confidence in the good God who is so powerful and so merciful. We obtain from Him as much as we hope for.
St. Therese of Lisieux
When I was pastor in New Jersey, some good friends told me they were moving to Nevada. They had visited there for vacation and had fallen in love with it. I was really surprised since the images of desert and casinos came to mind when Nevada was mentioned. Why leave the “Garden State for cactus and irrigation? Maybe I was so use to the east that the desert appeared so shocking a change.
There are many times, though, when you don’t have to travel to find the desert. It has a way of finding you when life seems barren and empty. It happens when a job is lost, a dream is broken or sickness occurs. Deserts have a way of finding and holding us so strongly that hope is easily challenged. Just ask John the Baptist.
He experienced the desert in a jail cell, as he was chained to a wall. He had spoken the truth to Herod calling for his conversion because of an immoral lifestyle. But the desert went deeper than that. John was examining his life in light of pointing out Jesus and calling Him the Messiah. He had called people to repentance in preparation of His arrival. He even sent his disciples to follow Christ. But nothing was happening in the way John expected. No unquenchable fire, no unfruitful trees cut down, and no overthrow of Herod or the Romans that John had preached. Because of that John most likely felt his life was a failure. His words, his lifestyle, his call to be prophet seem to be for nothing. Deserts can be painful experiences.
In typical Jesus fashion, He never gives a direct answer to John’s disciples who ask Him, “John sends us to you with this question. Are you the One who is to come or are do we need to expect another?” The answer of Christ shows a desert disappearing with the deaf able to hear, the forgotten and poor given the Good News, the dead raised and the sick healed. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to John, “In light of all that I’ve done and continue to do, what do you think?”
We never hear John’s reaction. Nor is there any reaction given to the words liberation of God spoken through Isaiah to a people in exile and captivity in Babylon. The word is spoken and people have to make a decision whether to believe or not, whether to trust in the commitment of a faithful God to His people and leave the desert or remain there.
Therese wrote, “We can never have too much confidence in the good God who so powerful and so merciful.” She made a decision to believe and live those words as she faced the desert of a tough group of nuns who belittled her. Therese believed in the presence of Jesus, even when, as she wrote, He seemed asleep in the boat on a night so dark she couldn’t see Him. She held on to that confidence as she struggled to believe in Heaven or struggled to breathe because of tuberculous. She continued to love Him. She became His presence in small acts of care to others, reaching out to a sister who struggled with real pain and rejection, or speaking the truth to others, even at risk to herself. Therese showed the Christ had not only come and would return again. She lived His abiding presence, even when her world seemed overwhelmed in the desert.
Part of the beauty of Advent is the realization that Christ has never left us, which is Good News for those who face barrenness and meaninglessness in life. They, any of us, never face a desert alone. We have those like St. Therese, John the Baptist and Isaiah who went through it, experiencing it in ways we have not. They clung to God as He held them. Is it any wonder that one of the most ancient prayers of the Church, “Come, Lord, Jesus”, become the cries of the poor, the needy, the broken, the empty, the frightened and so many others? He hears and comes to answer their pleas and “we obtain form Him as much as we hope for.”