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The desert gets cold in December, but there’s a fire

by davesandel on December 1st, 2021

Wednesday, December 1, 2021                      (today’s lectionary)

 The desert gets cold in December, but there’s a fire

Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?

There are stories in this one sentence-question to satisfy for days my own thirst for adventure. Where will that bread come from? What desert could draw all these people? Where do they get their foolish courage? Who is this wandering singer who draws such crowds? Is that confused-looking group of men bodyguards, or groupies? Who’s in charge here?

Some of those questions are answered quickly, in a flash, when my friend’s lame leg loses its wither and straightens without pain. He shouts with expectation at first, and then with sudden, amazed joy. He can’t stop smiling. “That was Jesus!” he tells me, and I see that it is. They call that man Jesus, and he can’t stop smiling either. His guards can’t seem to start smiling, but Jesus, well, his eyes are brimming with joy.

Jesus asked his disciples, “How many loaves do you have?”

They had seven, and some fish. Not much to feed such a crowd. And no money to buy more, and no place to buy more anyway. Jesus asks the people to sit down, and they do.

Jesus took the bread and fish, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to distribute. They all ate and were satisfied.

This story is not one of suffering, but of satisfaction. The lame were healed, the blind could see, and the hungry were given bread and fish to eat until they were full. God created us ex nihilo, out of nothing. He created all of this too, this bread and fish, ex nihilo. “No thing” might lack definition, but not possibility. Nothing is impossible for God.

The disciples picked up the fragments left over, and there were seven baskets full of bread and fish.

In the cool darkness of that evening I could hear someone singing in Hebrew, and I knew they were sitting by a fire, rocking back and forth, praying with David.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows, my cup overflows, my cup overflows. Goodness and kindness shall  follow me all the days of my life.

Suffering? Of course, that is part of every day. Never enough to eat, always someone in the family who is sick. In spite of the healings of Jesus, we all still die. Our wails of grief roll up the valley and down again.

But I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So what, that suffering? It defines nothing, it has no substance beyond itself. Michael Gerson, who might also have traveled into a trackless desert to see a miracle-working singer named Jesus, wrote in his Washington Post column of the suffering of Job, and Frederick Buechner’s thoughts about it:

Instead of providing an argument, God appeared to Job. God’s message to Job, as Buechner paraphrased it, was: “You don’t want to know why things happen. You want to know that I love you.” The highest Christian good is not the absence of pain, it is the presence of some purpose worth our sacrifice.

Gerson writes during this first week of Advent. “God enters into suffering,” he says, “he is himself placed at the mercy of suffering. The Advent always previews the Passion. The manger and the star imply the nail and beam.”

This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad. The hand of the Lord rests on this mountain.

 (Isaiah 25, Psalm 23, Matthew 15)

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