One of Advent’s most haunting texts is the one about “A voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’” This quiet passage (Isaiah 40:3) has always tugged at my soul because I’ve imagined some person out there in the middle of nowhere—wildernesses are tough places to live—yelling out loud about something important. In the outback places of life—any wilderness is out there beyond everything else—no one is there to hear that crying out loud! The wilderness voice might be like the sound of a tree falling in forest—making noise that activates no hearing mechanisms in any brains. The words that are cried out may seem futile, perhaps not even worth uttering. Who wants to be a wilderness crier if there is no wilderness listener?
I don’t know about your older adult wildernesses—or your older adult cryings-out. I have a similar feeling every so often—the sense that I’m shouting about important matters, even critical matters, into empty space. The words I form, the sounds I make sometimes seem to dissipate into nothingness once the sound waves lose their power. No matter the amplification of my (loud) voice, when I lack an audience or hearers, my wilderness words can seem like they have no effect.
It turns out that there actually are other wilderness-dwellers, many of them older folks like you and me. Scattered here and there are those like us—solitary voices—who also want to know that their warnings and invitations and assurances are being heard.
We don’t gather in noisy gaggles, so we listen to each other. We’re wilderness folks at the older edges of society, so we gather in morning coffee clatches; we write encouraging notes in our Christmas cards; we use social media to ask good questions and listen to others’ opinions; we respectfully disagree with unhelpful cultural trends; we tell the truth in love. We accept the love of others.
We act on our words, not content only to throw our vocabularies into the ether. We visit the sick, we cut down on our environmental footprints, we support enterprises doing godly work among those who are poor or downtrodden, we take care of our families. We call out public evil where we see it and repent of our own sinfulness. We pray fervently for others.
Another heartening truth: Out here at the fringes of our life spans, we can be especially noteworthy, primarily because we refuse to keep quiet about “the way of the Lord”. Away from the noise of the rest of society, those of us who are older wilderness criers might stand out. Perhaps because we hint at our available store of experienced wisdom, because we have accepted our sometimes-solitary place in the wider society or because our numbers seem to be growing—we’re finding mindful ears who pay attention to our cryings-out. Little by little, others like us are willing to spend more time in their own outlier wildernesses and also become crying-out listeners. Because we have time on our hands, we can think more carefully, caressing spiritual thoughts until we find just the right words. We become more credible precisely because we are in the wilderness!
I could be wrong about all of this—Advent bends towards other interpretations of this text—but for now I’m going to spend today satisfied that there is something good and useful in being a sometimes-solitary voice who proclaims God’s coming again!
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