Hearing & Seeing in the Wilderness

By Michaela O’Donnell

December 6, 2020

Scripture – Mark 1:3b (NRSV)

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
+++‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
+++make his paths straight.’”

A Note from Michaela

In Tuesday’s devotion, Mark included a short note, explaining how Life for Leaders readers can support the work of Fuller’s De Pree Center. If you’ve made a gift, thanks very much. If this is something you’re interested in, please click here to read Mark’s note. We are grateful for your support. – Michaela


Advent is an invitation to settle in and to wait with hope in the wilderness, growing in attunement to the sights and sounds that help us know that the Lord is on the way.


The other day I got up while it was still dark to go on a hike because my friend wanted to meet early before the trails got crowded. As we climbed up the hills, my ears rung with the sounds of my own exertion. So, at the first opportunity to catch our breath, I suggested we stop to “take in the view.” As my breathing quieted, I was struck by just how noisy it wasn’t. There, out of range of the LA freeways, in the desert like hills, all I could hear was silence. As a mother of two who is not accustomed to much quiet, I reveled in the silence. And, then after a few minutes, as I exhaled more deeply, I started to notice that it was not actually silent. Like when your eyes finally adjust to the dark, I started to hear subtle sounds of life. A rustle of a bush, the wind blowing past my cheek, the sound of dirt shifting under our boots, eventually a bird calling out as it flew through the sky.

I honestly can’t decide if this year has felt noisy or quiet: noisy because global hardship has felt relentless, or quiet because so many of us have spent so much less time doing things that used to fill our schedules. Either way, 2020 feels like a wilderness year. Think about trying to explain this year to your 2019 self. What would you even say? The whole thing might sound pretty weird, pretty bleak, pretty chaotic.

In the midst of chaos, I’m grateful for things that are predictable—like the liturgical calendar. After all, not even a pandemic cannot take away the fact that today is the second Sunday of Advent!  But I also wonder if in the midst of so much chaos, this Advent might hold special opportunity to commune with God and fellow Christians as we wait for the birth of Christ.

Advent is, among other things, an invitation to settle into the waiting of the wilderness. As tough as it might be, and as much as we might want to, we cannot rush the darkness that fills the night sky. We cannot rush dawn’s light. And we cannot move up the birth of Christ that reminds us of the saving of the world. For that matter, try as we might, we probably can’t will a normal holiday season into existence. We cannot rush back to business as usual. We cannot hurry COVID away faster than it will go.

The Good News is that Advent doesn’t want us to cover up the pain we’ve felt this year. Advent doesn’t want us to skip straight to joy. Instead, this season of waiting helps us get in touch with our longings and linger long enough in the dark that our eyes adjust to the night. This is how we learn to appreciate the fullness of the joy that comes with the light of new day. This is how we grow in attunement—and grow in delight—that the Lord is on the way.

Sometimes the coming of the Lord is loud and bombastic, like a voice crying out in the wilderness. Other times the coming of the Lord is much more subtle, like the sound of wind blowing past our cheek, or the small cry of a hungry baby born around the back of an inn.

Chances are your December looks different in some way this year. Perhaps it’s quieter than normal. If so, consider the invitation to prepare and wait on the Lord by tuning in to the sights and sounds of the wilderness in new ways this Advent season.


Are you naturally comfortable with silence? Or do you kind of work at feeling comfortable when everything is silent?


Turn off the lights and sit in the dark, offering your longings about this year and this season to God. Then, light a candle (perhaps an Advent wreath!) and consider how the move from dark to light can serve as a reminder that God is present in the wilderness.


Lord, I come to you in this season of longing and waiting. I want desperately to rush all the tough stuff away and have you usher in the light. But, I know that I can’t do all that. You alone are God. Lord, help me prepare for you to come by growing in my attunement to your voice in the wilderness. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:1-13)

Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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