The Desert Comma

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

400 Years

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Biddick, was born on July 15, 1609 in Cornwall, England.

I think.

Record keeping was sketchy back then.

I have no original documents, no photographs, no diaries handed down. Someone else’s genealogy research has supplied me with a name and a date, but I have no proof that Robert existed. Four hundred years is a long time.

Let’s put God’s four centuries of silence into perspective, shall we?
2022 – 400 = 1622

In 1622:

  • the settlement at Jamestown was attacked and 347 English settlers were massacred.
  • the Pope declared January 1 to be the first day in the new calendar.
  • Robert Biddick, my 8x great-grandfather, was 13 years old.
  • America wouldn’t become a country for another 246 years.

What would Captain John Smith or Miles Standish or Robert Biddick think if they were plopped down into 2022? It’s a very different world today, with cars and electricity and macaroni and cheese in a box.

Similarly, Micah, the last prophet to speak would have been completely perplexed by the newfangled Israel. There were things in existence that were unheard of four hundred years prior:

  • Pharisees and Sadducees and their list of 613 new laws
  • Synagogues in every town
  • Roman roads, aqueducts, and military occupation
  • Greek language (Just think! A whole new language!)

They waited eight generations for a word.
Then The Word was born.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son.” Galatians 4:4

The fullness of time = 400 years.
We’ve been waiting over 2,000 years for His return.
Time must be almost full again.