This is the first of our Advent blog series on “Into the Silence.”
Right now as I type, the Edinburgh Christmas market is in full swing, my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with friends’ pictures of their Christmas trees and decorations adorning their homes, and the quintessential poinsettia sits on my dining table.
However, the special day that has inspired all of this festivity is not yet here. This is Advent. This is coming.
I have a few friends who dread the “Christmas season” because the pace of life revs up to a manic speed and they find themselves then collapsing in exhaustion on Boxing Day. I wonder how many of us can relate?
And I wonder if this indicates that we are in a way actually missing out on Advent? Because the very word itself suggests a season of preparation for a great arrival.
Jan L. Richardson puts it this way:
“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before… What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”
Jan mentions a great arrival in Scripture – the glory of God passing before Moses in response to his refusal to rush ahead, choosing rather to wait for the presence of God to accompany, to go with them.
There is another great arrival years later. Elijah, alone in a cave in the wilderness – exhausted, scared, discouraged. God promises to meet with him then a great wind whips through, an earthquake shakes the mountains and a fire rages. But God was not present in these impressive displays. Then comes a quiet whisper. The original word for this quiet whisper actually means silence. And in the silence Elijah knows God has come to meet with him as promised and he ventures out of the cave to listen to the words of hope and destiny that God has for him.
Jesus was born into a time of silence. The prophets of Israel had become quiet and it seemed that God was giving them the “silent treatment”. But other voices were not silent. The classic Christmas song, “Silent Night” is not an entirely accurate picture of the time that Jesus was born into. There was nothing calm about it.
There was great political unrest and upheaval, fear was rampant, those in authority could not be trusted, friends were willing to betray one another for a few pieces of silver, it was every person for themselves, division was rife; injustice, poverty, greed, oppression, disease and depravity seemed to have the upper hand.
And in the noise of this chaos and into the silence of God, Jesus – the Word of God – comes. He does not come in a way that draws attention, with noise and trappings. Those who were blessed to meet him at his birth and not long after were those waiting and watching in places of quiet – shepherds, wise men who studied the skies, and two people who had devoted themselves to worship and service in the temple.
We are all living in the midst of noise right now – the noise of financial stress, the noise of cancer, the noise of strained or broken relationships, the noise of mental health concerns, the noise of negative workspaces, the noise of despair, exhaustion, loneliness, fear… And many of us may be experiencing what feels like God’s silence, that ‘dark night of the soul.’
This Advent 2019 Jesus – the Word who speaks life and hope – longs to come again in our hearts. So how do we prepare our hearts to receive him, that we do not miss him when he passes by, when he speaks in that quiet whisper?
Maybe in the midst of the parties and celebrations, cheery tunes, bright, sparkling lights and retailers competing for our attention, we need to find our cave, our mountain top, our stable. Maybe, in the midst of a “season of indulgence”, we fast something that would distract us or muffle our hearing.
However we posture ourselves this Advent, may our hearts deepest cry this Advent truly be, “Maranatha”, “Come, Lord.”