In the desolate places
December 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — This Christmas season feels very different from previous holidays, at least for our family. In years past, our children were thrilled with the anticipation of spending Christmas Day with their grandparents in Maryland — a tradition we have maintained for the better part of 18 years. We’ve missed a few due to moving, but we’ve come home for Christmas every year that we physically could.
This year, the children’s presents and treats have been trickling in via UPS, USPS, and FedEx. As excited as they are to receive these gifts, there is a palpable disappointment in the air as each package arrives. This Christmas, our children won’t get to hug their grandparents, and their grandparents won’t get the same joy of seeing the children’s excitement face to face. My in-laws have always gone all out in decorating for the holidays; their home is a wonderland at Christmas. Our children are not lacking in stuff; there is no treat deprivation happing around here. Grandma has sent popcorn, candy, cookies, and more. But she cannot send herself, and that is a loss we are all feeling keenly. Our house is decorated, but our hearts feel desolate. So much of the joy of the season has been stripped away by this pandemic. And I know that we are not alone in our wilderness experience. Perhaps you too have lost some of your joy this year?
This past Sunday, our pastor reminded me that God works in the desolate places. He began many of His greatest works in the deserted, abandoned, desolate places. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And what was it before it was “the earth”? Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep...” It was desolate. There was no joy, no happiness, no anything, really. And from that nothingness God created everything. He started with desolate and ended with daffodils, sunshine, the hug of a grandmother, the laughter of children — literally everything.
But, as if in deliberate contrast, sin started in the most beautiful place in the world, the Garden of Eden. In an environment surrounded by lushness, bathed in beauty, sin entered, and desolation returned. It doesn’t take man very long to ruin anything. We’ve no idea how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden, but we do know that they left it. Genesis 4:23: “... therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” In four short chapters of our history, God created everything, from nothing, and Satan made it desolate through deception and sin. In an instant, life was different. Sometimes our decisions have dire consequences, and sometimes we’re at the mercy of the decisions of others. The end result is the same, though: utter desolation.
Yet Christmas reminds us that in a desert, a dry and dusty wasteland, hope made a comeback. The Gospel of Luke records the beginning of our beginning again. Luke 4:1: “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness ...” Here in this desolate place, Jesus begins to put Satan in his place. The temptation of the First Adam was in a lush garden, surrounded by a wealth of plenty, and man fell. The temptation of the Second Adam is in the desert, a wasteland of nothingness, where He was tempted with the very same temptations as the First Adam: hedonism, egoism, and materialism. Satan specializes in deception; he is the Father of Lies. In the lush garden, Satan twisted God’s words, and Adam and Eve succumbed to their temptation. But in this deserted place, you find that Jesus repeatedly refutes Satan’s temptations using the most powerful weapon: the Word of God. Jesus accomplished what we could not. And thus, Satan’s defeat — bang: salvation had come. The reign of the false king is over, and now a weary world rejoices with hope!
If you find yourself in a desolate place this holiday season, remember that you are not alone in your wilderness and that some of the most beautiful things start in the deserted places. Luke 2:7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” This Christmas, my family and I will rejoice in the remembrance of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the King. For our God reigns!