Because it’s Clean

by the Rev. Paul McLain


In the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”, Major T. E. Lawrence was asked why he was drawn to the desert. He answered, “Because it’s clean.” Perhaps that is why John the Baptist began his ministry there. The wilderness of the Holy Land is not like those we have in the Mid-South. Instead of woodlands, marshes, and creeks, it is a dry, barren desert. But in that desert landscape, one is free of distractions. The desert is pure. The desert is clean.


John the Baptist did not start out in the desert. He was born in Ein Kerem, a lush, beautiful mountaintop villa a few miles outside of Jerusalem. His father was a priest in the great temple of Jerusalem, and John’s expected path would have been to follow in his father’s footsteps in the priesthood and inherit his family’s estate in Ein Kerem. John gave up a lot to go to the desert. He gave up wealth. But he also gave up suffocating expectations and agendas. In the desert, he was free to be still and simply listen to God. God gave him a special task – to prepare the way of the Lord, to prepare the people for the coming of Christ.


Throughout the Bible and throughout our lives, the place we are sent to prepare is the desert. After escaping from Egypt, the Hebrew slaves prepared to enter the Promised Land by wandering for 40 years in the desert. Jesus prepared for his public ministry by facing temptations for 40 days in the desert. We are now in our time in the desert. It is a time to let God purge our souls and purify our hearts. It is a time of stripping away all the vestiges of pretense and examining who we are at our core.


I think we too often try to skip this part of the journey.


We’re afraid of what we might find.


We’re afraid of pain.


We’re afraid of not being in control.


We’re afraid of unfamiliar territory.


We’re afraid of coming face to face with our sinfulness.


But even if we try to skip this part of our pilgrimage, we wind up backing into it.


So why not embrace it?


John the Baptist preached a tough message. It calls us into seeing our sins, seeing the consequences that our sins have had on God and on those around us. We see not only the things we have done but the things we have left undone. We see the people in our community and our world whose cries we have ignored. That is a painful sight. John offers a baptism that not only cleanses our sins but invites us to turn away from sin. He turns our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls toward the one who is coming – The Christ.


This Season of Advent is an opportunity for renewal – a second, third, or fourth chance to change. It is in the desert that John the Baptist brings us to thirst for our deepest longing. We long for home. But we discover that our true home is not a place. The home we long for is Christ, the living water. And he offers an oasis to all of us. It is Christ who quenches the aching and longing in all our hearts with joy, peace, new challenges, and new hope that we so desperately need in this time of the pandemic.


John the Baptist calls us to spend some time in the desert. It might mean taking a couple of days of retreat in an outdoor location. It might mean doing something for someone other than yourself. Take some time to embrace the desert, wherever it is for you.


Go there and let John the Baptist look into your soul.


Go there and find your true home in the coming Christ.


Go there and be made clean.

17 thoughts on “Because it’s Clean”

  1. Thanks, Paul. I am trying to look at our ‘forced retreat’ in the time of pandemic as an opportunity to clean house, literally and spiritually.

  2. Thank you, Paul. I wish that Jean Vandiver could hear/read this, but the nursing home is back on lockdown with an employee testing positive. We are not sure that she is aware of things anymore. I know that you will keep her in your prayers.

    1. You’re welcome, Needie. Sorry to hear that Crestpark is back on lockdown. I will keep Jean in my prayers. Please keep me posted as you learn more.
      Blessed Advent to you and Tom,

  3. Thank you Paul! This is beautiful. Take a walk in the desert -because it is so clean! Reminds me of walking on the sandbars of the Mississippi washed clean in the spring.

    1. You’re welcome, Jim. Glad it evoked a beautiful and cleansing natural image for you.
      Blessed Advent to you and Sharon,

  4. Lovely message, Paul,
    Reminds me of this hymn,

    Be Not Afraid
    You shall cross the barren desert,
    but you shall not die of thirst.
    You shall wander far in safety
    though you do not know the way.
    You shall speak your words in foreign lands
    and all will understand.
    You shall see the face of God and live.

    Be not afraid.
    I go before you always.
    Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.

    If you pass through raging waters in the sea,
    you shall not drown.
    If you walk amid the burning flames,
    you shall not be harmed.
    If you stand before the pow’r of hell
    and death is at your side,
    know that I am with you through it all.

    Be not afraid.
    I go before you always.
    Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.

    Blessed are your poor,
    for the kingdom shall be theirs.
    Blest are you that weep and mourn,
    for one day you shall laugh.
    And if wicked tongues insult and hate you
    all because of me,
    blessed, blessed are you!

    Be not afraid.
    I go before you always.
    Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.

    Isaiah 43:2-3, Luke 6:20
    Bob Dufford

    Thank you,

    1. Thomas, thanks for sharing this beautiful and thought-provoking poem. Glad the blog post was meaningful and evocative to you.
      It’s wonderful to see your name pop up at Morning Prayer!
      Blessed Advent,

    1. You’re welcome, Susan. Glad it spoke to you.
      It was wonderful to be and serve with Russ at a funeral in Little Rock last month.
      Blessed Advent and Christmas to you and Paul,

    1. Pat, glad it spoke to you, my friend. And I’m so glad about Mike’s continuing progress!
      Love and Advent Blessings from Ruthie and me,

  5. Paul, your post reminded me of another scholarly person, The Rev. Sandy Webb, who is known for asking In his Formation classes the question: “What happens when you’re in the wilderness?” Anticipated answer from the crowd: “You’ll find God!”

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