The Mystery of Advent: Quiet

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Jerusha Neal, who will be my guest for my Wednesday Bible reflection time in 9 days, wrote a fascinating book about Mary, the mother of our Lord. So very wisely, she looks closely at the way the church has sometimes ignored Mary, but way more often extolled her as super-human, the Queen of heaven, someone of extraordinary purity, holy passion, an overflowing of faith, or as Wordsworth put it, “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

Jerusha points out that the Bible “doesn’t waste time fixating on Mary’s purity, power or perfection.” What we do know about Mary was that she was a listener. She got quiet enough to hear the angel. If our culture strangles the life out of the spiritual life, it is primarily because there is so much racket. Something is always on – and must be. Or if there’s no sound, we’re still “connected” and “available” via smartphone, laptop, whatever gadget is our pipeline to the world. But if we’re always available, then we’re never available – to other people, and certainly not to God. If the music or TV or gadgets are always on, we’re never still enough, quiet enough, to hear God – who doesn’t shout or drown out the noise of the world.

To be quiet, you have to be sufficiently at peace with yourself and God to know it’s okay. To be quiet, you have to be ready to hear whatever might come. To be quiet, you have to be humble. We chatter and post angry Facebook remarks or silly stuff – and so we’re not listening, we’re emoting or dumping or blathering on. Mary was humble, she was open, she knew the heart of prayer isn’t rattling off requests to God, but “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), and “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

Quiet people can welcome others, those who are different. In Dickens’s Christmas Carol (which Matt Rawle will help us examine in 2 days on my Wednesday Bible reflection time!), Scrooge’s nephew spoke a hopeful truth: “Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Who’s really below us anyway? Who went lower, became more humble, and bore more poverty than our Lord Jesus?

This Advent, abide by the words in the lovely carol, “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella”: “Hush, hush, beautiful is the Mother, beautiful is her Son, see how the Child is sleeping, see how He smiles in his dreams.”