Let’s consider a few facts to begin.
1) This week’s lectionary Gospel text (Matthew 11:2-11) is a familiar one. We hear it each Advent as part of our observance of preparing ourselves to let Christ into our lives.
2) Language has power and part of the power of our language is how we use punctuation and grammar.
3) The ancient Greeks did not have any equivalent to our modern punctuation; this kind of punctuation was invented several centuries after the time of Christ. The oldest copies of both the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament are written with no punctuation.
It changes the meaning of an event if we say ‘we liberated Unnamed Country’ vs. ‘we occupied Unnamed Country’. Did we ‘capture’ a city or did we ‘secure’ the city? The words we use can describe the same event but put a completely different twist on it.
Punctuation can also change the meaning. “Woman without her man is nothing.” How does the meaning of that sentence change with punctuation? “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” Or. “Woman, without her, man is nothing.” Another consideration is “Let’s eat, kitty.” Or. “Let’s eat kitty.” Words matter; punctuation matters.
This week’s lectionary Gospel text is named by Mark as a reference to Isaiah 40:3; Matthew borrows the reference from Mark.
“A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
If we look at this text, adding our own punctuation, without the study and thought used by scholars, we may hear it differently.
“A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’”
“A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’”
What is Isaiah saying? Is he saying that the voice is in the wilderness and it is saying ‘prepare the way of the Lord’? Or, is he instructing us that it is in the wilderness where the preparations are to be made?
How might this affect our understanding? How does this affect how we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent season?
Is it when we are in difficult times (our wilderness) that we hear the call of God? Or, do we need to separate ourselves from ordinary life (go to a place apart) to hear the call of God? Perhaps, the answer is “yes”, “both/and”.
However, you hear God’s call; however, you receive a word leading you; we are called to prepare the way for the Lord during this Advent season. What obstacles do you have in your life that prevent Christ’s coming in to your life? Are you too busy? Are you too stressed? Is the state of our planet or our nation distracting you from listening to God’s call and looking for the arrival of Christ?
All these things are important; they all matter. As people of faith, we cannot turn away from the things in the world that are obstacles to us being prepared for the coming of Christ in our midst or distract us from hearing his word of compassion and love.
This Advent season, let us choose ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. While we prepare ourselves personally for the coming of Christ, may we not forget the pain and suffering in the world and around the planet; let us prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives, our families, our nation, and in the world.
The gift of Christmas is love; the gift of Christmas is hope; the gift of Christmas is joy; the gift of Christmas is peace.
Thank you, God, for the gift of your Son to bring all these blessings into our lives.