Reading: Luke 3:4
A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
A voice of one crying: “out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord.”
What is the difference between these two ways of saying it? It is a simple punctuation change, but the meaning is quite different. In the first one we hear the report from Luke pointing directly to John the Baptist. He lived in the desert, before he made his appearance in Israel. He was formed by his time in the desert to understand what God wanted of the Jewish people in his day. That is why he preached a call for repentance and a change of heart, signified by the baptism of repentance that he offered to everyone who came to him.
In the second instance, A voice of one crying: “out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord”, we hear a call to find God in the desert. This is where the nation of Israel met God after they left Egypt. They wandered in the desert for forty years learning what it meant to become the people of God. Throughout the history of Israel, the prophets kept calling people back to “the desert.” The prophets kept calling Israel back to an understanding of God’s presence among them, when they learned what it meant to be the people of God. It is the desert experience that reminds us of God’s call to holiness.
Have you noticed that when times are very hard, the presence of God seems stronger for those who believe? It is because those kinds of times are desert experiences for our souls. Loss of a job, loss of a loved one, any tragedy can be an experience of the desert.

I want to make two points with this: 1) we can be like John the Baptist if we use the tragedies in our lives as a way to be an example to others of a call to holiness through those same tragedies; 2) we can recognize that God uses all the experiences of our lives to teach us about his love for us.
Now, it is not easy to be in tragedy and turn our eyes to God at the same time. Part of us want to rebel and to stand on our own and to fight through whatever we are going through. Part of us want to yield everything to God because these times are not fun. But when we are able to use these moments of tragedy for God’s blessing on us, we become stronger and more capable of being a witness like John the Baptist before a world that does not want to hear the need to prepare the way of the Lord. Yet, it seems to me that this needs to be the cry of the church to the world of today.
Lord Jesus, you are familiar with tragedy. From the death of Joseph, the foster father, to all the sufferings that you endured yourself. Help us to understand how tragedy can be a blessing in disguise. Walk with us, especially as we go through our desert, that everything we do may be for your glory and honor.
Keep us from despair. Keep us from anger. Keep us from walking away from you. You know how we struggle with suffering, but you have redeemed it all. Help us in our lives to add our deserts to your paradise. Amen.