Wild Comfort

The wilderness—wildness—is where desperation and rebirth coexist.

Wild Comfort
Kufotos. Licensed from Adobe Stock.

A Sermon for Advent 2B, December 10, 2023

Listen closely now
To all the wrong sounds
Trying to hear
Listen closely now
The last will be first, the far will be near
She comes calling from the wild
She comes calling from the wild…

We have two stirring texts this week.

Isaiah 40, which we heard first, sees the author moving from last week’s warnings of judgment and destruction for God’s people, to a message of comfort and freedom that is to come for a community in exile.

The beginning of Mark’s gospel points directly towards the words of Israel’s prophets, particularly Isaiah & Malachi. Last week we listened to Mark’s words foreshadowing the coming of the end times; a passage infused with hope for those in desperate and dire situations.

This week, we are greeted with the declaration of good news. Mark’s original audience could have really used some good news as they navigated the violence and complexity of the Jewish War with Rome and the destruction of their temple.

The wilderness is a place. An idea. It comes up over and over again in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Canada is a country filled with wilderness; trees, lakes, mountains. It can be tempting to think of the wilderness as the place where we grab a waterbottle and simply go for a long hike, take beautiful instagram photos, and then after a time of forest bathing and rest, rejoin the world. The wilderness as a break.

But this is not the wilderness of the Bible. The wilderness we encounter in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is hard and tests every piece of resolve we have:

  • Moses and the Israelites wander around in the wilderness for 40 years.
  • Before that Hagar is banished with Ishmael by Abraham out into the wilderness to almost certain death.
  • Jesus retreats to the wilderness, where he is tempted and tested by the Devil.

The wilderness of scripture, is a separation…from comfort, from community, from identity. There is a wildness….where life makes no ordered sense. Where nothing can be counted on or taken for granted. Where we are only left to wonder,

“What comes next?”

“Where do I go from here?”

“Who am I?”

Or perhaps even…

Whose am I?”

Listen closely now
Make straight the path
The wilderness here
Listen closely now
The one who comes next
Will call out this fear
She comes calling with the wild
She comes calling with the wild…

What is our wilderness? When, and perhaps where, is your wilderness? Where relationships have fallen apart? Where loved ones have passed away? When work feels like a never ending cycle of the same thing…with no feeling of accomplishment or purpose? When we feel unseen? Invisible? Separate? Lost?

Or perhaps, is your wilderness is a feeling of being helpless; no matter what you do or try…it just doesn’t get better. A loss of hope. A lack of peace. Personal and systemic, the wilderness is a tough place to be. Very rarely does anybody choose the wilderness.

And yet we also see in scripture, the wilderness and wildness is also the birthplace of something new…

Crouched in darkness once again
With the addicts and the lonely
Where the broken speak out boldly
In the desperate cries of the used and wild
She comes calling

The Israelites make it to the promised land.

Hagar finds a spring of water.

Jesus passes the test.

Because each and every time, God shows up offering guidance, sustenance, or the fortitude to know the path forward.

God comes calling. She comes calling over and over again, from the wild, and with the wild.

While the Revised Common Lectionary sets up the Isaiah text as prophecy for Christ’s birth, it is Mark who is glancing back in time to Isaiah’s words.

And this good news starts with John—a wild man dressed in camels’ hair, locust legs sticking out of his teeth, screaming and crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!” Can you imagine passing by a guy like that? Maybe he’s standing on Danforth Avenue. All these nice, civilized people with their Starbucks coffee strolling by, and here’s this wild dude waving his hands in the air, screaming at the top of his lungs that something—something is about to happen. Something is about to change.

It’s coming, whether you like it our not…and you better be prepared.

Listen closely now,
A plea in the night
A love to proclaim
Listen closely now
A witness, a victim, The Word, and a name…

It is one of the reasons I believe this time we set aside for worship every week, to be together and be with God is so important. This hour is an intentional time where we can come and sit and be and name the wilderness we are walking through. A time to sit with the wilderness of the world, and hear God calling to us in the midst of it. Where our wild, broken hearts are heard and honoured in community.

She comes calling with the wild
She comes calling with the wild
As a scandal, as a child
She comes calling with the wild

This is a place where we can remember:

Who we are…

And whose we are…

And where God is…

Always with the wild
Always with the wild


This article was originally shared with East End United Regional Ministry as part of Sunday worship on Sunday, December 10th, 2023. You can find the full service here:

Rev. Bri-anne Swan is lead minister to East End United Regional Ministry in Toronto, Canada.