Punctuation is everything.
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
For years I read this verse as “A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” So, the one speaking was in the wilderness and instructing us to prepare for the promise of the messiah, the one who will save us from our problems; pull us out of the wilderness.
However, the punctuation suggests something very different. ‘A voice cries out...in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’ The focus is not on getting out of the wilderness, but rather doing the work of preparation in the wilderness.
What is your wilderness? Where is the place of difficulty; place of abandonment? Where is the place that needs attention or is cold and unfeeling...the place you want to get our of; be rescued from? It can be daunting to think that it is in the midst of these strange and uncertain places that we are called to be present.
When we spend all of our time trying to be somewhere else, we miss the blessings that are right in front of us. And I know that there are blessings even in the wilderness.
What would happen if I changed my attitude about the ‘wilderness’ in my own life. Would I feel more empowered to be fully present where I am and truly walk with those around me? Would I strive to make changes that create life and peace in these wilderness spaces?
This verse is in response to the people of Israel when they are in exile. They do not have a home, they are not totally sure where they are going and they feel separated from God. I believe that still describes the wilderness of today. And God does comfort us in that place.
I asked several people a general question about where or how they felt comforted. I got answers like ‘food’, of course, sunsets, babies, looking up at the stars, a walk outside and time with family and friends. These are the places where God is present. These are some of the ways he comforts us. When we are present enough to recognize the blessings, we will find comfort in the wilderness.
The promise of a coming savior is still present in this verse, the question is: ‘Will the Christ child keep me out of the wilderness, or is the Christ child going to be with me, comfort me and encourage me when I find myself confused and lost?’
Where or how do you feel comforted?
What blessings have you discovered in your wilderness?
Where can you make a difference in someone's wilderness?