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Advent Special 2010, part III

We invite you to meditate privately on each text before reading the reflections that follow.
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 (New American Standard Bible)
The wilderness and the desert will be glad,
And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus.
It will blossom profusely
And rejoice with rejoicing and shouts of joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
The majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the glory of the Lord,
The majesty of our God.
Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
“Take courage, fear not.
Behold your God will come with vengeance;
The recompense of God will come,
But He will save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
Then the lame will leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.
For waters will break forth in the wilderness
And streams in the Arabah.
And the ransomed of the Lord will return,
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting joy upon their heads.
They will find gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Reflection by Aletha Pineda
Wilderness. On occasion, life feels like a dry, empty wilderness. Dreams die as harsh reality jars peaceful bliss. The ideal job turns sour as someone with a mental problem stomps through orderly procedures and practices. Illness robs meaningful activities that once defined personhood. Death, conflict, broken agreements or broken hearts leave a wilderness where a rich landscape of relationships used to grow.
Wilderness. Dry. Quiet. Empty. The wilderness offers a place to meditate, struggle, & grow, but it’s always difficult.
Our high school wilderness survival class culminated with a 50 mile hike. Using a map each small group planned a drop off point and route through the mountains. We had 3 days and 2 nights to find our way back to school. When our group of 3 started hiking, the landscape looked different than the map. We argued about which hill was which and where we actually were.
Still, that first night out was pleasant enough. The next day we agreed that we had reached the canyon and stream that would take us down, out of the mountains and back to the school. We emerged in the wrong town 12 miles south of where we should have been.
With no trees by to tie up our tube tent, we laid it out on the on the ground and climbed in. During the night rain fell. Small rivulets flowed onto the black plastic forming puddles by our sleeping bags. Shortly after midnight the other two had had enough.
“We’re hitchhiking,” they said.
I refused to go; I wanted to finish what I had started. In the morning, I stuffed my soggy sleeping bag and started down the road under a rain poncho.
Wilderness. Wet. Lonely. Miserable. When a farmer with a truck offered me a ride, I accepted.
“Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.” The farmer had.
Can God really make the wilderness bloom? Can he turn the events in my life around so that I am able to shout with joy? Can people get their lives back as this God comes with vengeance to destroy the practices and events which have destroyed those He created in love? Can He recreate this landscape of my life with so much beauty and texture that I will not be able to contain my joy?
I hadn’t expected much from the desert of Arizona. I would work there for 7 weeks, following a geochemist and picking up bags of sand. I would sit in a mobile lab and analyze the samples. It would be dry and hot.
I was surprised. The infinite variety of cactus fascinated me. Coyotes, wild boar and puma streaked across our path on occasion, giving me the first glimpse of a lifetime. The geochemist boss opened my eyes to the natural wonders around us. He taught me to drive a 4-wheel drive vehicle across the country without roads. Between sampling sites we discussed interesting topics. The 7 weeks in Arizona became one of the highlights of my life. Rain came one night. The next day flowers splashed color and dead sticks in fence lines bloomed.
God promises to do this in the wilderness of life. He will point out beauty in spots that looked only dry and drab. He will bring surprising events. He will be there communicating. The rain will come in the night. Suddenly, life will splash with color, vibrancy and joy.
But first, so as not to overwhelm us with the beauty He can bring out of a desert, He comes as a helpless, floppy, needy baby—a baby whose very presence says “Love me. Please love me as I have loved and redeemed you.”
James 5:7-10 (New Revised Standard Version)
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 it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Reflection by Ryan Bell
Patience is not the most cherished virtue of those who wait for the coming of the Lord. I strongly suspect that waiting, ironically enough, is not prized by Adventists in any greater numbers than the general population. We are so eager for Jesus to return that we are continually devising strategies to “hasten Christ’s return” through evangelistic efforts, mass distribution of books or other materials, or striving for personal moral perfection. But last on the character perfection list for most of us, I imagine, is patience. Yet that is exactly what James, the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem (or general conference president, if you prefer) admonishes for each of us who anticipate our Lord’s return.
A farmer cannot make her crop grow any faster than it will. So, too, our role is to “be patient…until the coming of the Lord.” James knows us well. Just as I do a slow burn as I wait in Los Angeles freeway traffic, so we are each prone to turn on each other during prolonged periods of waiting. Witness the crowds at the mall this holiday season jockeying for the last available parking spot. Waiting our turn tends to test the most basic qualities of our character. Adventists, of all people, should be known as people who are learning to wait well; people whose patience is manifest through the quality of their love for others; people who have learned that they don’t need to retaliate when they are attacked and condemned.
Matthew 11:2-11 (New International Version)
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, 
 who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Reflection by Gina Helbley
Are you The One Who Was To Come? The One who baptizes with fire? You’re not what we were expecting. Where is the winnowing fork, the flying Roman bodies, the war call, the victory shout and the coronation? Where are the fireworks? The Messiah is supposed to bring the Day of the LORD – a day that burns like an oven, a day of judgement. And all the arrogant and every evil doer will be like dry tinder for the fire. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be thrown in. Not a root or branch will be saved. He will sort men like a farmer sorts wheat from straw and not one straw will escape the fire. He will destroy all of the nations that attack Jerusalem and exalt the mountain of the LORD. Kings will bow before him and bring tribute to his Holy temple. His coming changes everything. So who are you? Are you really The One Who Was To Come? Quiet teacher who avoids cities and crowds and prefers desert places, you preach about peacemakers and turning the other cheek and loving our enemies while the number of those ready to fight for you grows. They wait eagerly for you to sound the trumpet call to war. They wait while you heal and preach and pray and attend parties. Are you the one who was to come? Or should we expect someone else?
Come and see for yourself: The lame walk. Can any but God build muscle and tissue where it was not? The blind see. Can any but God speak light into darkness? The dead live. Can any but God give the breath of life? The faces of the poor burn with new hope. Who but God can restore a broken spirit? Blessed is he who is not offended by simplicity. Who wants freedom for his neighbor as much as he wants it for his country. Who can perceive greatness in the clothes of a beggar and is not enchanted by gold and silks. Who does not need fireworks to believe but trusts in the still quiet voice of the Spirit. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.
What did you all go out into the desert to see? Was it a great man? Was it a rich man? No. It was a simple man, a poor man. And yet that man was far greater than any of you knew. He was greater in fact than any man you have ever known, or ever heard of, but you did not perceive his importance. There is only one greater than he, but you don’t recognize him either, because He is also the least among you. Greatness is counted differently in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven turns all of your categories upside down and empties them of their pretended meanings. In the kingdom of heaven thrones are reserved for servants and the proud receive no praise or honor. Only the simple will be there because only the simple can endure to be there. All others will be greatly offended
Aletha Pineda is a freelance writer living in College Place, Washington.
Ryan Bell is Pastor of the Hollywood Adventist Church in California.
Together with her husband David, Gina Helbley co-directs the Adventist Christian Fellowship program at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

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