Punctuation matters! There is a difference between “I’m sorry; I love you,” and “I’m sorry I love you.”
That Advent passage from Isaiah always sounded like “A voice cries in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord.”
Actually, there’s a colon. “A voice cries: in the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”
That changes everything. The desert is not the location of the voice, it is where the work must be done. It is through arid, barren and forsaken landscape that the Lord’s way must run.
A desert, though, is not just a place. It can be a pandemic, or any time of loss, depression or fear.
For Father Alfred Delp, it was war. He was a pastor in Munich, helped smuggle Jews to Switzerland and was a member of the resistance.
He was arrested, tortured and hanged. He could have renounced his Priesthood and the resistance, but he chose the desert instead.
In solitary, he spent his days in prayer and writing bootlegged letters to his parishioners.
He felt an urgency to do what he could. In a horrid desert of war and holocaust, he could feel despair calling out for comfort, faint courage needing strength, and perplexity yearning for understanding.
From his cell, Delp wrote a lot about Advent, about how it should shake us from our stupor and sensitize us to the suffering in the world.
His Advent was not just about the coming birth of the Child, but our participation in that still unfolding revelation of God that began one Holy Night.
For Delp, the Advent Road, the way of the Lord through the desert, was the path of freedom.
Awaiting death, he found a new freedom, one more profound than its impostor posing as “do what I want.”
His freedom road demanded a toll of humility, compassion and generosity. He considered that a small price for an authentic encounter with self, with others and with God.
A mystic according to some, Delp believed he found himself in heaven before he died — not a place or a period of time, but a conscious union with God brought about by prayer and love.
In his desert he wrote, “This is seed time, not harvest. God sows the seed and some time or other He will do the reaping. The only thing I must do is make sure the seed falls on fertile ground.”
His last line should have ended with an exclamation point! Punctuation matters.