My son and I are reading through the Bible together. I’m pretty sure I’ve written that in a previous editorial this year, but I can’t remember, and I just don’t have it in me to do a quick search.
Embarrassing, and yet, not unusual for so many of us in the final month of 2020. In short, we’re over it.
Back to the Bible reading. The plan my son and I are following has us reading the prophets over the last several weeks. Isaiah is a magnificent book. Jeremiah has its bright spots. Ezekiel is the best and worst of an acid trip—not that I’d actually know.
One thing these three major prophets have in common is how long the bad, depressing, brutal parts last. It takes real fortitude to read all the way to the end of them. The temptation is strong to quit early. There’s only so much death, destruction and doom we can take.
The repetitiveness of the prophecies leaves us wondering if there is any good to come. And then, there it is.
Several years ago, my wife and I received the wonderful gift of vacationing in Puerto Peñasco, a fishing and shrimping town turned resort destination just south of the Arizona border at the northern tip of the Gulf of California, or Mar de Cortés.
To get to Puerto Peñasco by car, you have to drive miles and miles across a parched landscape. During the blast furnace of summer, the drive is enough to leave a person despairing of what awaits ahead—if anything awaits up ahead. Is there really any water out there? Will the beach be worth it?
When you think it can’t get any drier, tall sand dunes come into view, stretching as far as you can see to the right and left. The road approaches them, climbs them, and in a split second, there’s the sea. And yes, it’s worth it.
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Every time I get on social media, especially Facebook, I see the parched landscape of being the church during a pandemic. Pastors are stressed and depressed. Church members are at or near the end of their flexibility. All of us are over it.
Whatever the season we’re in right now—spring, summer, fall or the fast-approaching winter—we’re traveling in this beat up school bus together, looking out the windows at a world leaving us thirstier, colder, more hard-pressed by the moment. And then, the sand dunes up ahead.
But we’ve never been this way before. We don’t know the sand dunes are the end of the hardest part. To us, they look like things are going from bad to worse. They present a wall of despair to us like the 30th chapter of Ezekiel, and there are how many chapters in Ezekiel? Lord, help us.
We need a pep talk, but where’s the pep? The best we can do is grit our teeth and fake positivity. If that’s what we have to do, by God, we’ll do it, but don’t expect us to like it.
And so, with that grim determination we take in the news near and far.
Close to home, in a manner of speaking, are reports of Southern Baptist seminary presidents united in affirming the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and condemning critical race theory. Their joint proclamation, reported on Nov. 30, already is being debated, critiqued, criticized or embraced. But I’ve yet to encounter any sense their statement is the pep talk we need.
Beyond denominational intrigue, there is the ongoing tension and rancor over the presidential election. Talk about being over something. Whoever we voted for, we’re all thirsting for the calm water on the other side of this political nightmare.
As states certify their votes, increasing focus is on Georgia. On Dec. 1, election official Gabriel Sterling from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office stepped to the mic and directed an extraordinary rebuke to President Trump and Senators. He passionately called out Trump and Senators for not condemning violent language, threats and behaviors against Georgia election workers.
Sterling’s speech was not quite the pep talk we’ve been looking for, but he certainly spoke what needed to be said and directed condemnation accurately. However grateful many are for Sterling saying what needed to be said, we’re still looking for cool water.
Nov. 29 was the first Sunday of Advent. We lighted the candle of hope. That’s the candle you light when you first head out into the desert looking for the sea. When you’re looking out the windows and the whole world seems to be laughing at you with its sand, rocks, cacti and scrub, hope is all you have.
Dec. 6 is the second Sunday of Advent. Many will light the candle of peace. If you’re liturgical, you’ll read from Isaiah, that marvelous major prophet. Specifically, you’ll read from Isaiah 40.
“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
Lord, I’ll do my best.
[Listen for] a voice calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”
Lord, we’re listening.
“You who bring good news …
go up on a high mountain.” (Isaiah 40:1, 3, 9)
OK, Lord, we’ll go.
And so, we set out across the desert, searching for, longing for the promise of renewal and restoration when we at last get to the sea.
If we read long enough, drive long enough, we will see:
“[The Lord] gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
It’s miles and miles of barren landscape.
Up ahead, there.
See the dunes?
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.