The Desert Comma


Never underestimate the power of the lowly comma.
There’s a big difference between
“Let’s eat, Grandma!”
and
“Let’s eat Grandma!”

Commas in prose, poetry, and song lyrics give us a breathing place which is important because some sentences run on and on without coming to a natural conclusion creating a difficult situation when reading aloud thus making the reader a bit light-headed with no place to catch a quick breath.

(The best run-on sentence ever is found in Ephesians chapter one, where Paul expounds — in Greek — for twelve verses without a period. The English translation, thankfully, divvies up the passage into eight sentences, but still uses 18 commas.)

Why all this talk about commas?

Every Advent, I wonder about the punctuation mark in Isaiah 40:3. The prophet Isaiah speaks words of comfort to his people and then tells them to “prepare the way for the Lord.”

Some versions say,
“A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord.”
Some versions say,
“A voice of one calling, in the desert prepare the way for the Lord.”

It’s subtle. And maybe it doesn’t really matter.

If I had any say, though, I’d vote for the second one. Here’s why:

Thirty-one years ago today, PB and I were sitting in the intensive care unit at Marshfield Hospital with our nine year old daughter. She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare and serious disorder of the skin and internal membranes. We didn’t know if she would live through the traumatic ordeal. We didn’t know if we would, either.

The pediatric ICU at Christmastime feels like a desert. All grit, no refreshment, so stifling you can hardly breath. We did a lot of calling out in that desert room. But, strangely enough, we also found it to be a holy place, a wilderness with a highway that led straight into God’s presence. The Lord is prepared to meet us right there — in the driest, grimiest, and messiest of places.

We know this to be true
because He took His first breath
in a smelly, gritty, germ-infested barn.

The desert truly is the best place to prepare for His coming.

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