The Gospel for December 17th, 2017: Third Sunday of Advent
Reflection: The Need for Silence during Advent
As we reach the third Sunday of Advent, I admit to ‘busy-ness fatigue.’ While I try to embrace the celebration of the season in all its liturgical significance, I am swept up by all its secular celebrations of various stripes as well. In the meantime, there is no slow down at work, only the additional responsibility to celebrate the season there additionally while the work continues to hum along. The sum total of all this celebrating and work is a sense of weariness and distraction that is precisely the opposite of the watchful spirit of Advent. There is a sense of déjà vu in this blog; I have discussed this before about this time of the season. And I don’t think I am alone in this. The reminder from some watchers to “keep Christ in Christmas” touches on this same general theme.
It is with this context that I read today’s gospel about the ministry of John the Baptist. He is preaching repentance and baptizing to prepare Jews for the coming of Christ. When asked about this, John is clear that Christ is coming—he, John, is not the awaited one. (25-27). Why is this preparation taking place in the desert instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem? There are many theological theories about this; but in my current state of mind I move to this conclusion: Jerusalem sounds like a busy city. Perhaps John has taken his ministry of repentance and watchfulness to the barren quiet of the desert. Perhaps, this is a place away from noise and distraction of the city where he can focus on the coming of Jesus into the world. Indeed, by doing so, Jesus does come to him there for baptism (Matthew 3: 13-17).
My point is the role of silence in our worship is critical to getting away from distraction and noise of the world, even when that noise is well-intended during the spirit of the season. If we are preparing to meet the Lord, we need to foster the circumstances that make that encounter possible. While we may love our neighbors and family at a holiday party, that joyful noise may distract our watchfulness as well. According to African Cardinal Robert Sarah, we must not forget the role of silent, contemplative prayer in bringing us to Jesus. Like John, we must find our own deserts for prayer. Meditating on the need for fostering the circumstances for this kind of prayer in the book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, he notes:
The desert is the place of hunger, thirst, and the spiritual combat. It is vitally important to withdraw to the desert in order to combat the dictatorship of a world filled with idols that gorge themselves on technology and material goods, a world dominated and manipulated by the media, a world that flees God by taking refuge in noise. It is necessary to help this modern world to have the experience of the desert…the desert is the domain of grace. Far from his preoccupations, man encounters there his Creator and his God (Sarah & Diat 64).
So as I encounter the familiar and ironic weariness of Advent, I realize I need to spend time in silent prayer, to reconnect with Jesus and be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is only then that I can truly repent and watch with joyful anticipation of the final fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom on Earth. Silence is the antidote for ‘busy-ness fatigue.’