Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7; Mark 13: 33-37
In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel released their hit Sound of Silence. Of course, many of you know it was a tumultuous time in the world and country, let alone the Church at that time. The Vietnam War was escalating and dragging on, bloodshed in the streets, the civil rights era was growing as segregation comes to a head, and even post-Vatican II in the life of the Church, felt like everything was in upheaval. In the midst of this all, this song, Sound of Silence is released, prophetic words at that time and possibly today as well when it feels as if we are right there again, tumultuous times in the country, community, and world, facing upheaval. What makes their words prophetic was their recognition of how comfortable we had become with darkness, even referring to it as friend. It’s as if we become accustomed to fear and violence, often leaving us feeling helpless and saying, “that’s just the way it is.”
In our own words of faith, they speak of the longing for the voice of reason and the voice of God to speak and rise up to something new. It is that which is squashed and told we are to fear, leaving us lonely and longing on a deeper level, wanting more, and yet, feeling like we must settle for what was. At times, feeling as if the silence is deafening and uncomfortable that we’d prefer to stay put rather than sit with what is uncomfortable, the longing within. Even the naysayers pick up on it all and convince us that the world is about to end, fear mongering, and it is in this present form, but as people of faith, we must also look at it as a birthing of something new and a letting go of what was, making space for our longing to give birth to new life, to a new way of living. Whether we like it or not, it is almost always coupled with violence, but isn’t the birth of a child somewhat painful and violent? Yet, life breaks forth beyond the pain and darkness.
Much of what we hear during this season, especially from the prophet Isaiah is an acknowledgment of that longing of people Israel and us as well. We hear that today, that over time, the hearts of people Israel have grown hardened by avoiding the silence and the longing within, thinking it can be answered and fulfilled outside themselves. It takes place following the exile as Isaiah crafts this prayer for a return of God’s favor to the people, an intervention by God into their lives. You would think a people that experienced the violence, bloodshed, famine, and overwhelming death would be quick to change their ways, and yet, what Isaiah witnesses is a people that slowly return to their old ways, a return to what brings comfort, trying to fill the longing of their hearts as individuals and a people in ways that just won’t work. As time passes, the voice of God begins to silence and the people are left wandering in their own lostness, wondering, where is their God who had led them out of exile, the God who had moved them beyond exodus, over and over again, the faithful God and potter who Isaiah speaks of in this prayer.
The disciples will quickly learn as well about that deep longing within as the ministry of Jesus ends at this part of Mark’s Gospel which we pick up in this new year, and from this moment on, the voice of Jesus, like it did for people Israel, will grow silent. As his voice grows silent, the disciples and Jesus experience violence and bloodshed. Once again the political and religious leaders will use fear, as is so often done today, to control and to squash that voice and eventually, kill it on the cross. Jesus and the disciples know all to well about that longing and the deafening silence that often ensues in these tumultuous times, times of uncertainty that leave us running for something else and something more, thinking it will be filled in other ways rather than sitting with our own uncomfortableness, our own interior silence and longing.
We know all to well during this season that there are many things that grab our attention and fill us with excuses as to why we don’t have time for prayer and silence. We have shopping to do, somehow trying to find that perfect gift, we have baking, card writing, and all the rest, and before you know it, it’s Christmas Eve and Advent has passed us by. My experience, that longing then begins to show itself the day after Christmas, when we couldn’t meet expectations, when it wasn’t the right gift, and so on, and we start to feel it within. As we enter into this season of Advent, these prophetic voices invite us into silence. They invite is into our own uncomfortableness. When we sit with it long enough, even if it’s a few minutes a day, God can begin to transform the longing into life, rather than us buying into the fear over and over. We all have it within us and we all need silence otherwise we act out that longing in so many different ways. The sound of silence can be deafening and avoided quite easily in our lives, but in giving birth, which itself is quite painful, God wants to meet us there to give birth to that longing into a newness of life.