in the wilderness prepare

a voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God
—Isaiah 40:3

My “wilderness” devotional happens weekly, on Thursdays. The passage we today meditated on was Isaiah 40: 3-5; verse three I quote above.

As the lector began reading, I was startled–her punctuation didn’t match what I was expecting. I was ready to hear a wilderness voice; she spoke of a highway in the middle of nowhere.

Without realizing it, I was listening for Mark (1:3) or Luke (3:4), who both see Isaiah pointing toward John-the-baptist, who was in the wilderness, and was certainly using his voice.

But that’s not at all what contemporary major translators see in Isaiah 40:3.

(It would be handy right now if I’d had Hebrew; I suspect the original doesn’t bother with punctuation at all, leaving each reader to be their own interpreter.)

The current scholars see a royal road built in the wilderness, made straight and level. In listening, I heard a herald…perhaps calling the people to action?…striding from one end of the kingdom, or the desert, to the other. “Make way! Make way!”

It’s not the image I default to for the second personage of the Trinity. I veer more toward sibling than majesty. Still, this passage makes me want to drop to my knees and flatten my face to the ground.

And why is our Lord’s smooth road through the chaotic wilderness, not through the communities where people already are? Although… before the Lord arrives all is pancake-smooth and ruler-straight… by our efforts? Or sacred entities’ labor? Let’s hope the latter, because I feel unequal to the task of leveling (ordering?) the wilderness’ chaos to make something suitable for royalty.

Maybe what we here witness is that in front of God even the most unruly chaos becomes ordered. “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:12

I may think I’m standing in the wilderness,

but God doesn’t see it like that.

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