Advent 2 :: Crying in the wilderness?

2011 Scotland Trip 214

Scottish Wilderness

It is interesting how a slight change in punctuation can alter the meaning of a message. Take John the Baptist’s proclamation in our Gospel reading for today:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” [Mark 1.3]

This quote comes from the prophet Isaiah, but note the change in punctuation:

“A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.” [Isaiah 40.3]

Mark has the “voice” crying out in the wilderness. Isaiah doesn’t place the “voice” anywhere in particular, but tells his audience that the wilderness is where we are to prepare the way of the Lord’s coming. A slight change in meaning perhaps, and one that can be explained by a total lack of punctuation in the earliest texts, thus leaving it for later editors to determine. But one wonders about such changes and how they might effect the meaning of a text.

For Isaiah, the wilderness represented the vast stretch of desolate land between the exiled Israelites living in Babylon and their promised future in a restored Jerusalem. Raising the valleys and lowering the mountains, clearing out a wide swath of ground so that God’s coming would be made easy [kind of like plowing the highways after a winter storm to allow for safe travel] was the prophet’s call to action. God’s victory over the nations would be heralded by a magnificent parade on a clear thoroughfare leading from exile to freedom!

In John’s case, the wilderness becomes a place from which he proclaims the coming of “one who is more powerful.” John literally journeys to the margins of habitability [the wilderness area of the Jordan River valley] in order to preach the good news to all who likewise find themselves on the margins of society: the Gospel thus becomes especially important for the outcast and downtrodden.

Perhaps both interpretations can be useful to us this Advent. To whom on the margins of our society is the message of Christ’s coming most important? How is God calling us to prepare a highway in the wilderness of our lives so that we may journey from exile to freedom?

Link to RCL Lectionary for Advent 2

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