Advent is a time for silence. Or, to put it a little better, Advent is a time for facing up to the silence of God.
We don’t like to admit it. This is the time of year for declaring the Emmanuel—that God is with us—and for saying that God is the one who steps into our world and our worlds to ring the changes, to announce the kingdom. We want to announce that God speaks and always has from the beginning of the world, and that his first and final word is the Christ.
Which is all true, but seems to point in the opposite direction. The idea that God is silent—whether in reality or in our experience—makes us uncomfortable. We want to run to the easy answer and declare that if we experience silence from God then there is something wrong with us. That we need to be fixed. To undercover the sin or tragedy that has befallen us and move towards healing for our deaf ears.
It’s the sort of Christian answer to a problem that I completely understand—our own sin can make us feel like God is cold and distant—and is completely tone-deaf at the same time. We haven’t thought through what we’re really saying.
After all, if the silence we are experiencing is a failure of God to intervene where we hoped and expected he would—if it’s the lonely silence of the grave, which when we finally boil it down to the real problem, it almost always is—then to suggest that this is as a result of my sin is obscene. Or, to take a wider more theological stance, true as long as we mean everyone’s sin, so you’re just implicating yourself, friend.
I firmly believe that God speaks. He speaks with me daily. We converse. I hear the voice of God, and that’s the normal Christian life. Mostly he tells me things that sound simple and trite, like “I’m loved”. Simply and trite until you start to get under the skin of their import and then get their import under your skin. That’s earth-shattering.
And yet, I think we must face up to the silence of God. Stare down the darkness.
Staring Down the Darkness
Advent is the time to remember our longings, to grip everything we wish could happen and look at what remains in our hands, cooling in winter’s frigid air. As we do so let’s sift our motives, much of this is our own vile ambition, our pride, our senseless urge to take and take and take. Hurl that into the outer darkness.
But something remains.
Stare down at the dreams we’re left with, a longing to receive from the hand of a gentle master that has yet to truly happen. Feel the heft of it. Small but oh so heavy. These longings are worth feeling, and yet as we stare the weight of a thousand moments of silence gathers around us like a crowd of witnesses. Heaven is silent. The good has yet to happen. The yawning silence of the void is all we have.
This doesn’t sound like it’s true. But it is. If it’s not your experience, then I’d like to say “give thanks to the Lord” but I don’t really mean it. Honestly, I think there’s so much of the Christian life you have yet to embrace. We are to share in the Lord’s suffering (1 Peter 4). There’s a gift hidden in the muck when you get deep enough.
Some days that gift sounds like silence.
And yet, there is hope.
It sounds foolish to say so. It feels like spitting in the wind. And yet, and yet.
When we set our faces like flint. When we remember that he suffered worse than us. When we remember that there was a garden shaped like a temple shaped like a garden, with a family tomb sat where the most holy place would have been. When we remember women who travelled to that family graveyard, to that temple, to that garden like Eden, who met a gardener turned husband and smelled spices on the air, we remember that there is hope.
Hope like a rumour that breathes on the wind. Hope that sometimes gives in to the pressures of doubt. Hope that decides to try again the next day to believe that there might be hope. That a man walked out the back of death. Hope that whispers.
Despite the silence. Maybe even because of it.
For, dear friends, hard though some days it can be to believe, we do receive an answer. Maybe it doesn’t satisfy our questions, maybe it doesn’t quiet the storm of our emotions, and maybe it doesn’t appear to materially change anything about the morass we’re caught in—but we do receive an answer.
Our answer comes after Advent, at Christmastime, in the face of a child, smiling, the heaven-born Prince of Peace.
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