In Advent we hear John the Baptist described as a voice crying out in the wilderness. Anyone who has visited the Judean or any desert will be struck by a particular feature of this wilderness: its silence. Wonderful, really. It is a welcome respite from the world of noise and babble in which we are constantly immersed.
Yet the message of this voice in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” gives us pause. This message is of such importance that it cannot be directed only to arid geographical expanses. It is of such universal reach that it must be referring to another kind of “wilderness”, another space which itself is marked by the silence that enables one to hear. In absolute silence, words break in with remarkable clarity and cannot but be heard. No more important word can be spoken to us than that of God. It is heard most clearly when we make our hearts a “wilderness”, that is to say, when we cultivate within ourselves a silence that cancels out all noise other than the voice of the Lord.
Not easy, but certainly possible, and definitely desirable. As I travel I notice more and more passengers using so-called noise-cancelling headphones. The many noisy distractions of an airplane, for example, are “cancelled out” (sort of) so that one may hear only that which one wants to hear, such as music. That which one not only should want but also needs to hear is the voice of God. All that distracts from this voice should be “cancelled out”. This is far more of a challenge than putting on earphones! It means being deliberate about finding time and space to be quiet. It also means seeking the grace of prayer, the help of God to lift from our minds and hearts all the “noise” of plans, anxieties and unanswered emails so as to focus on “the one thing necessary” (cf. Luke 10:42): what Christ wants to say to us.
This Advent, let’s find time to be silent, to become an interior “wilderness”, in order really to listen to the only thing that really matters: God’s loving plan for us in Christ.