Once again, the prophet issues us an invitation to join God in the desert. “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”
You all know that I was an English teacher some years ago. Without a doubt, one of the hardest things to teach was the use of the punctuation mark known as the comma. As hard as it was, at least the English language has them. There are no punctuation marks in Hebrew. Consequently, when the first people translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin and then into modern languages, they had to supply the punctuation marks. If you ever taught language arts, you know well that a misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. All too often, translators and copyists would put a comma after the word “desert.” The passage would then read, “A voice calls out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord.”
However, many Scripture scholars believe, and I agree with them, that the comma should come earlier so that the passage reads: “A voice calls out, in the desert prepare the way of the Lord.” The desert is a special place in the plan of salvation. It was in the desert that God first sealed a covenant with the people of Israel. Many of the prophets went to the desert to hear God speaking to them. John the Baptist, who bridges the Hebrew Scriptures with the Christian Scriptures appears in the desert. He could have walked the streets of Jerusalem as did Jonah in Nineveh, but he deliberately calls the people out into the desert in order to remind them of God’s efforts to enter an intimate relationship with them.
The topography of Israel includes both verdant, green hills and dry, arid salt wastes. God chose the latter in order to accentuate the fact that we need God, and only God. It is all too easy to forget that when we are living in the comfort of fruitful, verdant hillsides. However, it is a lesson that everyone learns in the desert.
So Advent is a time to enter the desert once again, to prepare a way for God to enter our hearts as we draw near once again to the mystery of the Incarnation when God leapt out of heaven to be born here on earth and to live among us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator