Advent Reflections- Holy Silence
December 15, 2015
by Bishop Goodpaster Three candles have now been lit around the Advent wreaths in our churches and homes. However, as the countdown to Christmas enters its final week and the anticipation builds so also all of our last minute preparations. We get caught in the hectic, sometimes chaotic, rush toward Christmas, with to-do lists that are too long and days that are too short. In the midst of our haste comes the brief story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth soon after the angel announces to her that she will bear a son. (Luke 1:39-56) Here there are no choirs of angels breaking forth into song disturbing the night; no large assembly of people traveling to be counted in a census; no shepherds or wise men or animals. Just two soon-to-be mothers thinking about their lives and their babies, and contemplating what God is doing in and through them, and for all humanity. On the last several trips I have made to the Holy Land, we have visited Ein Karem, a small village southwest of Jerusalem. According to tradition, it is the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the birthplace of John the Baptist. While some tour groups make their way to this place, it is never as packed with pilgrims as are most of the other sites in Jerusalem. In order to get there you travel narrow streets and the bus parks some distance away which means a hike through a neighborhood. And then there are the steps up – many, many steps up. The climb is worth it, because when you get to the top and to the chapels that have been built over the centuries, you discover a quiet calm. Looking back toward Jerusalem I can almost feel the crush of the crowds trying to get into places. But here there is time for reading the Scripture and moving in silence around the grounds, connecting with the story and perhaps singing Mary’s song. I look out over the countryside and feel a holy calm in my spirit. It is that Advent rest that too often eludes us. It is Mary’s song reminding us of God breaking into our busy, chaotic lives. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Will I be able to stop long enough to consider those blessings? “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” To stand in awe and wonder at the patient and kind mercy of God extended to me is to find Advent rest. God has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.” This is not about the stuff that will be on our tables or under our trees, but the grace-gifts of God to enrich all of life. In his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament John Wesley writes that Mary is “under a prophetic impulse” as she sings. I like that perspective: Mary’s song is not about her but about what God has done, is doing, and will do. She sings about God’s actions. It has nothing to do with her busy-ness, her possessions, or her anxiety. It’s all about God’s love breaking into our dark world and shedding the light of divine hope and joy into our lives.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (United Methodist Hymnal, #230)Bishop Larry Goodpaster is the Resident Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church