Advent Reflections- Holy Silence
by Bishop Goodpaster
Three candles have now been lit around the Advent wreaths in our churches and homes. However, as the countdown to Christmas enters its final week and the anticipation builds so also all of our last minute preparations. We get caught in the hectic, sometimes chaotic, rush toward Christmas, with to-do lists that are too long and days that are too short.
In the midst of our haste comes the brief story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth soon after the angel announces to her that she will bear a son. (Luke 1:39-56) Here there are no choirs of angels breaking forth into song disturbing the night; no large assembly of people traveling to be counted in a census; no shepherds or wise men or animals. Just two soon-to-be mothers thinking about their lives and their babies, and contemplating what God is doing in and through them, and for all humanity.
On the last several trips I have made to the Holy Land, we have visited Ein Karem, a small village southwest of Jerusalem. According to tradition, it is the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the birthplace of John the Baptist. While some tour groups make their way to this place, it is never as packed with pilgrims as are most of the other sites in Jerusalem. In order to get there you travel narrow streets and the bus parks some distance away which means a hike through a neighborhood. And then there are the steps up – many, many steps up
. The climb is worth it, because when you get to the top and to the chapels that have been built over the centuries, you discover a quiet calm. Looking back toward Jerusalem I can almost feel the crush of the crowds trying to get into places. But here there is time for reading the Scripture and moving in silence around the grounds, connecting with the story and perhaps singing Mary’s song. I look out over the countryside and feel a holy calm in my spirit.
It is that Advent rest that too often eludes us. It is Mary’s song reminding us of God breaking into our busy, chaotic lives. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Will I be able to stop long enough to consider those blessings? “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” To stand in awe and wonder at the patient and kind mercy of God extended to me is to find Advent rest. God has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.” This is not about the stuff that will be on our tables or under our trees, but the grace-gifts of God to enrich all of life.
In his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament
John Wesley writes that Mary is “under a prophetic impulse” as she sings. I like that perspective: Mary’s song is not about her but about what God has done, is doing, and will do. She sings about God’s actions. It has nothing to do with her busy-ness, her possessions, or her anxiety. It’s all about God’s love breaking into our dark world and shedding the light of divine hope and joy into our lives.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (United Methodist Hymnal, #230)
Bishop Larry Goodpaster is the Resident Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church
Resources for Vital Congregations
Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor
GBHEM Leadership Resources
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church
Englewood Book Review
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Ted Talks: The Golden Circle
Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability
Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability
Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians
Be A Disciple
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations
Living As United Methodist Christians
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials
Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today
John Wesley Sermons: Anthology
Get Their Name
Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit
Canoeing the Mountains
Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People
Community: The Structure of Belonging
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
Institute for Emerging Issues
Congregations 4 Children
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants
The Duke Endowment
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at email@example.com.