It might have been a wonder of nature that was too remarkable for words: the stillness of silent, softly falling snow; the placid lake reflecting that gorgeous sunset; the late-October maples that seem on fire. Perhaps it was the sleeping newborn, the lump in the throat when your child overcame a challenge with determination and courage, the first time your spouse-to-be said those words, “I love you.”
There are also things too terrible for words, when awe takes the form of fear, or grief, or deep sadness at sufferings and sorrows. Silence also abides for some as a constant reminder of loneliness, or loss, or being forgotten by others with busy lives.
The Book of Lamentations addresses this painful disquiet in the soul that ironically quiets our voices, when no words suffice. Traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, it is a collection of laments for the anguish that visits even those God has chosen when the power of sin, pride, war and destruction take center stage. Yet among those words of heartache, we read surprising words of hope:
“It is good to wait in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).
This is Advent for us: to wait in silence for the saving help of the Lord.
The Church sets the Advent season of preparation to see the Lord in what might seem the worst of times for reflection and stillness. The crowded stores, the stack of cards to send, the traditions to maintain in kitchens and decorations, the travels to plan and the gatherings to ready: all this makes the weeks before Christmas an exhausting time for many. Silence? No time for that; maybe later, when things settle down. Yet the words ring true: it is good to wait in silence for the saving help of the Lord.
Advent — “he comes” in loose translation from the Latin — is not solely nor even primarily about remembering the past. True, the early days of the season recount the prophetic promises of the coming Messiah, and the later days turn to us to fulfillment of those promises with the birth of Jesus. The Son of Mary is the Son of God. Here in our midst is Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” We sing “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie” and “how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!”
Yet our Advent today is primarily about a future that still awaits: the coming of the Lord when time itself ends and the eternal Now of God can become our own endless life.
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
The awe of that hope is what inspires Advent silence, waiting for the saving help of the Lord.
The best Church document I have ever read comes from Pope Benedict XVI: “Spe Salvi” (Saved by Hope). The late Pope reminded us that Christian faith understandably became a source of hope for the poor and outcast, those without power in the Roman Empire, with the radical Gospel message of the equality of all people before God, each made in the divine image and called to the same eternal joy. But it also brought hope to the wealthy and the powerful, when they recognized that all the advantages and privileges of worldly life did not quiet their souls. Something was missing for both rich and poor, powerful and powerless, the movers and shakers and those moved and shaken, that no merely earthly goods could supply. God alone suffices; and now God had come into the world as one like us.
That fact, that event, changed everything. It still does.
Pope Benedict wrote: “We see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. … The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life” (Spe Salvi, 2).
There is much to trouble our Advent. War and rumors of war, opioids, rising costs, callous destruction of human life all across the lifespan, violence and harm — all of this is mind-numbing daily news. The familiar carols and the beeping credit card readers distract us for a bit but cannot still the longing we have for relief, for peace, for hope, for God.
This Advent, amid all the noise, choose a place and time where you can be quiet, still, attentive, transparent before the gaze of the Redeemer who looks upon you with human eyes and divine love. For many, this gaze is found in time before the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus. Pour out whatever is in your heart — your worries, your sadness, your gratitude, your regrets, your hopes — in the unshaken confidence that life will not end in emptiness. Let awe hold you speechless. Experience for yourself: it is good to wait in silence for the saving help of the Lord.
Father Tom Knoblach is pastor of Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids and Annunciation in Mayhew Lake. He also serves as vicar for healthcare ethics and vicar for clergy for the Diocese of St. Cloud.