Every Advent we hear: this is the season for listening quietly to God’s Word. And every Advent we remember: it is also the busiest season of the year. What to do?
Psalm 46 offers a suggestive geography. It pictures an outside world where chaos is imagined as earthquake, tsunami, political turmoil, warfare. But there is also an inner world where God’s presence and protective power banish all turmoil. There we can sit quietly and hear ourselves think. The obvious Advent strategy is to find the way into that quiet place within while the holiday-mad world around us is in turmoil. Lucky for those who can, but many of us find it nearly impossible. Are we then shut out of the holy season’s gift?
Maybe not. What if Advent shifts the strategy? As we prepare to celebrate God’s entry into human history as Word-made-human-flesh, perhaps we could reconsider where we might go to hear God’s Word in the midst of the season’s bedlam. Advent and its Christmas sequel remind us that God’s point of entry was never a silent sanctuary, outward or inward. After long, tumultuous years of promise, the Word arrived in a stable in Bethlehem—a town bursting with incomers who were summoned for a census, a murderous dictator hovering in the background. So wouldn’t it be appropriate to listen for the Word not just within our own hearts but also in the less-than-quiet world around us? What if we learned to recognize the Word in raucous shoppers, quarrelsome family members, and the muttering of homeless people we pass by?
We might rather not. Our own inner sanctuary offers a quiet retreat, but the surrounding babble invites us into the chaos of real human dramas where we often don’t know how to help. Psalm 46 offers a strategy for that, too, but not the one we usually come up with. “Be still, drop that heavy fix-it toolbox, and just be there where God is.” Learn to hear God’s ever-creating Word spoken in the human voices of expectation and despair, joy and suffering, desire and anger.
On the Advent doorstep of the Good News made flesh among us, be present, pay attention, listen, and seek to love all those speakers milling everywhere, the welcome and the unwelcome alike. Presence, awareness, listening, and love—God’s fix-it toolbox—are far more powerful than bows, spears, and shields. They are, after all, the tools that Christ, the ultimate Word, brings into the world for our salvation. Let us study them now, in this season of listening—even if only in hurried snatches—so we may learn to put them to use in doing the Gospel’s work year-round.