WORLDVIEW: Silent night

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Message spotted on a church sign: "Christmas: expectant hush, not last-minute rush."

Rush we can do. Hush, not so much.

Given a choice between a day of silence and stillness or of noise and distraction, the average American probably would choose the latter –- out of habit if nothing else.

Silence makes many of us uncomfortable, even anxious. So we lunge for the remote or the iPod. Silence encourages reflection, but we are not a reflective people. Silence prepares the heart for prayer, but we're too busy multi-tasking. Silence enables us to hear the still, small voice of God, but we don't have the patience to wait for Him to speak.

"Patient waiting is not a strong point in the dominant culture," observes Christian scholar Ronald P. Byars. "We are a people in a hurry. We are in a hurry for Christmas, too, and so the parties, the feasting, the decorating and the carols begin early."

But Advent, the month preceding Christmas on the traditional church calendar, teaches us "that some things cannot be rushed," Byars writes. This season of expectant waiting, he explains, is "directed toward the future. That is no small thing for us who live in a culture that is almost entirely present-oriented, both forgetful of the past and fearful of the future."

God cannot be rushed. He promised the birth of the Messiah centuries before the actual event. It occurred on a silent and holy night in a little town. No one but the shepherds and a few wise men from the east noticed. With the exception of King Herod, the movers and shakers of the time had no inkling Jesus existed until decades later, when He changed the world forever. They, like us, were too distracted by other things.

Of all the devil's weapons, one of the most insidious is one of the most mundane: noise. Pointless noise. Endless noise. Cell phone ringtone PDA laptop inbox voicemail pager TV radio video traffic subwoofer leaf blower noise. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Static distraction has become a pandemic, spreading globally from technological societies to places that once were quiet. Truly silent places are becoming almost impossible to find. Connectivity is a blessing and a curse: It brings information, education, opportunity -– and the Gospel –- to peoples once imprisoned in ignorance and isolation. It also brings ceaseless noise.

Not just actual, physical noise, but the continuous mental and spiritual static that drowns out the voice of God. He is patient, but He will not compete with lesser things for our attention.

Say what you will about the excesses and eccentricities of Christian hermits through the ages. They have something profound to teach us about silence. The Desert Fathers first retreated to the Egyptian wilderness in the very early centuries of the church. They sought holiness and purity. They sought spiritual renewal. Most of all, they sought the deep stillness of the desert in order to listen to God with undistracted attention and love Him with undivided hearts.

In that respect, they followed the example of Christ, who sought His Father in lonely places and in the silent watches of the night.

If you were quiet, truly quiet, before the Lord for an hour or a day, what might He say? Perhaps He would ask if you love Him. Perhaps He would heal an old hurt. Perhaps He would give you a glimpse of His burning heart for the lost peoples of the world, hungry to be told the story of Jesus.

Perhaps He would say nothing at all. He might just want to spend some quiet time with you, Father and child. He leads us beside still waters to restore our souls. "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him" (Psalm 62:5).

What, exactly, is your rush? Where are you going that is so important? Do you really need to be hyper-connected while you're getting there? Did you just speed past the Bethlehem exit on your urgent journey?

MapQuest doesn't show the way to the stable in Bethlehem. GPS can't get you there. The destination can be found only by waiting, in silence, like the shepherds on the hills under the stars.


Listen to an audio version of this column here.

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