Great Things in the Wilderness: A Desert in Bloom
Joel 2: 18-28
18 Then the Lord became passionate about this land, and had pity on his people.
19 The Lord responded to the people: See, I am sending you the corn, new wine, and fresh oil, and you will be fully satisfied by it; and I will no longer make you a disgrace among the nations. 20 I will remove the northern army far from you and drive it into a dried-up and desolate land, its front into the eastern sea, and its rear into the western sea. Its stench will rise up; its stink will come to the surface. The Lord is about to do great things! 21 Don’t fear, fertile land; rejoice and be glad, for the Lord is about to do great things! 22 Don’t be afraid, animals of the field, for the meadows of the wilderness will turn green; the tree will bear its fruit; the fig tree and grapevine will give their full yield. 23 Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God, because he will give you the early rain as a sign of righteousness; he will pour down abundant rain for you, the early and the late rain, as before. 24 The threshing floors will be full of grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil. 25 I will repay you for the years that the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten— my great army, which I sent against you. 26 You will eat abundantly and be satisfied, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has done wonders for you; and my people will never again be put to shame. 27 You will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists; never again will my people be put to shame. 28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.
When the Prophet Joel spoke to the people of God in the wilderness of their captivity, he gave them a surprising perspective of what this time in the wilderness provides. In the Bible, often wilderness is a desert, with images of dry, barren, fruitless, expanses of land. “How can there be life here?” But Joel says that the Day of the Lord, that time when God comes to lead God’s people home, will start in the wilderness.
You know the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” At our house, it’s actually, true. The grass really is greener in our neighbor’s backyard. But they tell us our is greener. The grass always appears greener on the other side of the wilderness. If we must walk through the darkest wilderness valley, we do so fueled by the hope that this dry, rocky wilderness path will give way to the green pastures on the other side.
But sometimes the wilderness itself offers up a great surprise – it bursts forth with life, as lush and green as a fertile meadow.
Joel tells us in whatever wilderness we face, that is where God starts to work. He reminds us, yet again, that what is good for humans will also be good for all life. Joel says God, moved with pity, “became passionate about this land,” this wilderness, and God speaks comfort to us and the land and the animals saying, “Don’t fear, land,” “Don’t be afraid, animals,” “Children rejoice.” “The Lord is about to do great things,” right here in the wilderness.
It is in the middle of the wilderness new life springs forth, feasts are had, praise and wonder felt. Friends, what might it look like if this wilderness we are in as a church, as a people, were to burst forth with blessings, before we even emerge? God promises that in the wilderness, God’s Spirit will pour out on all of us, men and women, young and old, and we will dream dreams and be filled with visions, dreams and visions that will lead us forth.
In the many difficult times we face, it never quite feels right to, “look on the bright side,” or for the “silver lining.” But what God does promise us, is that no wilderness we face will be left a barren waste land for us to simply suffer. Even in the driest, scariest, darkest wilderness, God’s passionate love for us gives us hope, dreams and visions, and all our wilderness will be reclaimed by God, as a wilderness blooming with life.