“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert!”
It seems a little out of place to be rejoicing with the Israelites
over God’s promise of water and streams,
when we have a weekend of snow, rain, sleet, and ice!
It may take a little more mental energy today,
but perhaps there is no better time to take us to the desert.
I would like to take us to the Negev desert in southern Israel.
This desert covers 55% of the land mass of Israel.
The word “Negev” in Hebrew means ‘dry’ –
and the driest part of the Negev is in the south,
and that’s where we’re headed.
The average rainfall here is 31mm a year – 1.2 inches.
It is hot – (use your imaginations!)
temperatures reach as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
As we walk along, we can see that the Negev is a rocky desert.
There are dusty mountains – dunes can reach heights of up to 100 feet.
And there are also deep craters.
Overall, we don’t see a lot of life here –
it is a barren place.
There are some animals which have adapted to the conditions…
ibexes, jackals, and scorpions (I hope you shook out your walking shoes before you put them on!);
there are acacia trees and African shrubs.
It is a desolate place.
And it can be a very threatening place.
Windstorms can be more powerful in the desert than on the ocean.
There have been desert sandstorms which have buried whole tribes of people!
The greatest threat to us in the desert today, however, is the threat of thirst
– desert thirst – which is a different kind of thirst than what we’re used to.
There’s the thirsty you get after you’ve worked out for an hour.
There’s the dryness you feel in your throat when you have the heat on in your house – and you’re thirsty.
Those are examples of thirst…..but they’re not desert thirst.
Ann Plato describes true desert thirst:
“… to be thirsty in a desert, without water, …,
is the most terrible situation that a human can be placed in,
it is one of the greatest sufferings that a human being can sustain;
the tongue and lips swell;
a hollow sound is heard in the ears, which brings on deafness,
and the brain becomes inflamed.”
Half of the people who experience it die from desert thirst in a day and a half,
the rest within 3-4 days.
Imagine that you have experienced such thirst…
imagine that your neighbor or cousin or friend from school once died from such thirst…
imagine that you live in a place which gets a little over one inch of rain/year.
And now listen to Isaiah…
Isaiah says to this desert people,
“Be strong; do not fear;
Here is your God!….
Waters (waters)! shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams (streams!) in the desert!”
Could God give any clearer promise of joy
than the promise of water?!
Lest we need a reminder that in modern times the threat of thirst in desert places
is not over, consider this:
In October of this year, 90 Nigerian migrants (mostly women and children) died of thirst
when their vehicles broke down in the Sahara desert.
Or this…According to the Latin American Working Group, in the United States
nearly 2000 undocumented aliens have died from dehydration in six years,
in the desert border region between San Diego, CA and Big Bend, TX.
Or this…one out of 7 people in our world – that’s nearly a billion people, mostly in sub Saharan Africa
lack access to safe, clean drinking water.
One of Nelson Mandela’s prayers was this:
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all.”
Thirst is still a problem.
The promise of water is still accompanied by great joy for a great many people.
Let’s move to the New Testament – to Jesus.
In the New Testament, God (Jesus) promises water too.
Jesus promises over and over again, “living water.”
Jesus comes to earth and finds all sorts of people who are desert thirsty.
He offers them living water – and their lives begin to bloom again.
There’s a woman at a well; a woman whose life is as dry as a desert;
she’s had 5 husbands and is living with a man who is not her husband.
Jesus sees her desert thirst and promises her water that will sate her thirst forever.
He promises her living water.
There’s Zaccheus the tax collector and crook;
Jesus offers him living water as he invites him to dinner.
Zaccheus is transformed and the man who was hated by others, begins to bloom.
There’s the woman who has been unfaithful – caught in the midst of adultery;
she’s trapped in a desert.
Jesus saves her life by reminding those who would stone her that they all are sinners;
and then he offers her living water as he tells her –
respond to this living water by changing your life – go and sin no more.
There’s the prodigal son – who has spent all his inheritance on wasteful living,
and winds up in the desert wilderness – eating with the pigs.
He comes to his senses and returns to his father
who puts a ring on his finger, a coat on his back, and kills the fatted calf for a grand celebration.
Suddenly, the prodigal son’s life is blooming again.
Again and again and again and again and again,
Jesus comes into people’s lives.
Their lives are like deserts.
They are desert thirsty.
And when Jesus leaves, their deserts are blooming once more.
On this third week of Advent,
let us think about areas where we are “desert thirsty.”
Where do we need Jesus’ living water?
Where do we need the Spirit to speak to us?
Where do we need new life?
Jesus brings living water to the thirsty.
As Barbara Lundblad’s text to the tune of O Come O Come Emmanuel says,
“O come now, living water, pour your grace,
And bring new life to ev’ry withered place.”
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.
O Come Emmanuel.