Sunday 6 December 2020
Listen to the Silent Words of the Prophet
Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Context: Advent Mass in a contemporary urban setting with a varied committed congregation, many of whom are appreciative of the charisms of the Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality, expecting encouragement and stimulation to live out their faith in daily life
Aim: to help churchgoers to stop and discern where we are going in the midst of the preparation for Christmas and in the light of COVID-19
Going away on a week’s silent retreat is an annual and much valued event for us Jesuits. And maybe indeed it is for many of us here. I think it’s true that we all need to get away from it all, isn’t it? To at least try to step back into varying degrees of silence, away from the sounds of the city, with its bustle and stress, whether it be the stress at work, or the clamour – especially at this time of the year - of family demands and preoccupation.
This year though has been particularly stressful. There has been, there is, anxiety, fear, grief on a mass scale. We can’t minimise that: this horrific illness, people dying alone, bereavement, domestic abuse, loneliness, losing jobs and homes. So much anxiety many will have experienced psychological bad health too and the scourge of depression. So, a stressful time of the year at a stressful time to say the least for our country and for our world.
How do we use this time now, this time of waiting for the coming again of the Lord? What I want to offer us today is a challenge. And the challenge is to use this time well. To use this time well. Pope Francis has been constantly reminding us of this in fact in much of what he’s been saying in the past year. He tells us this is an opportunity to recover the gift of ‘contemplation.’ What he means there is a gift of discernment to identify where the gifts of this time are, where the opportunities lie, and through that to look to a future we can and will need to shape for that much hailed ‘new normal.’
A time in the desert, in the wilderness. And it’s when we’re here in our wilderness that we give ourselves the chance to listen, to listen to God. To allow God to speak to us about his plan for our lives in our own desert that we’re walking alongside the People of Israel. Just maybe being able to begin to glimpse this sketchy figure of John the Baptist who appears across the sand in front of our silent screen. Because he’s inviting us to make space in our lives for the Lord, for the one who comes to us as the God made human, and so human he loves us infinitely, wants the best for us in our lives, yearns to show us again his mercy, his mercy and his compassion, wherever we are in our lives. It’s no accident - rather it’s in God’s plan - that John comes onto the scene at this moment we know so well. The moment we’re despairing, the moment of lowest ebb. It’s that Advent moment perhaps when we are called to return to trust in him.
How then we are called to be aware of that private wilderness in some solitude and silence in these last days before Christmas? What’s the scene all about for you when you go there and let the mists gather for a moment or two? Do the mists of the desert reveal challenges in our personal lives? Or maybe it’s clouds of doubt about being a Catholic and a Christian, about faith, after all we’ve been going through. Maybe the ‘new normal’ is bringing me back to the Church after many years and I feel it’s still a bit of a wilderness; or my faith has weakened in the past months, something of a desert.
Advent takes us to the desert with John to bring us to the oasis of our lives, to point in hope and trust to the Lord’s coming among us again. Wherever you are on our journey in life take heart from this, that he will visit us again to bring all things in heaven and earth to the fullness of a new creation where suffering, doubt, sin, death, will be no more. We are being invited there to see his presence among us now, to drink from the living streams which flow from the Lord’s side and spill out into the life of the sacraments. To renew the promises made at our own baptism by water and the Spirit, the Spirit truly here inside of each one of us. To know the God of reconciliation, to know deeply God’s mercy and compassion flowing out to us, reaching out to us in Jesus’ humanity softening and transforming our reluctant hearts. Knowing in Holy Communion the God who in Jesus has sacrificed himself for us so we may be free of the fear of death and of our own human tendency to turn away from what is good for us.
Here and now John the Baptist calls us towards him in his desert place and points us forward in joyful expectation. With him we look to the bank of the Jordan, across the misty river, to the land beyond the wilderness in us all, to the one who is far greater than our daily expectations. He is the one who sheds rays of light on our clouds of doubt, the one who is total mercy, total compassion, total love, in whose voice is now for us the Word. No mirage, no ghost, but a God who is real, en-fleshed, here in our midst, and will, we know in certain hope, will visit us again. The God of Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate.
And we move forward in certain hope in that God. Because Advent is not about making ourselves worthy. It’s about a certain hope that Christ is coming again to make a dwelling place in us. Through the witness of our lives the Word of God, the way, the truth and the life, can break through the wilderness around us, and even in the most silent human desert, can speak joy to our world again.
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