​​Tuning out of Advent

December 21, 2022 | Editorial | Volume 26 Issue 26D
Will Braun | Editor
This was the quiet view out of Braun’s window as he wrote about Advent.

Sometimes I wish the perennial efforts to wring some fresh meaning from amidst the hecticness of Advent would abate. It feels like open season for religious cliches and uninteresting comments about busyness, when all I want is silence.


But I’m not here to complain. I have found a simple approach to make Advent a season I love.


Shaped by Catholic stops on my spiritual journey, I understand Advent as a season of silence. Jesus is in the womb and the womb is silent, muffled. It is also dark, secluded and relatively still. Restful.


Mary is waiting. She has said her grand “yes,” and now she waits. It is not a time of human striving. God is working within her, largely without her effort.


Yes, pregnancy involves effort and discomfort. And yet there is in conception and prenatal growth an element of pure gift. Mary can make some preparation, but the vital preparation is a mystery within, quite beyond her control.


God works in the still, quiet darkness.


The writer of Lamentations says, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”


I’m reminded of the wisdom of Waldemar Janzen, who taught Old Testament at Canadian Mennonite Bible College. As I recall, he said the Sabbath, not unlike Advent, was a time to let God be God, a time to acknowledge that our efforts are entirely secondary to God’s.


“Be still and know that I am God,” reads Psalm 46.


In this part of the world, the season of Advent matches the season of winter, which is still and dark. In winter, the seed—at least the wild seed—rests in the cold, dark, silent ground—the womb. There is more waiting than striving. On good years, winter is also a season of snow, the most quiet of elements.


I love those grounded, earthy metaphors, and I acknowledge an indebtedness to the Advent reflections of author Caryll Houselander.


In practical terms, I tune out a lot of the Advent words around me. Sorry. I put on Handel’s Messiah and let the music fill my heart. I don’t strive to dissect the words and I don’t have the ability to analyze the music. So I just listen, just let it wash over me like a warm shower.

In addition to The Messiah—which is playing as I write—my approach to Advent involves resolute avoidance of the word “busy.” Mary Herr, a spiritual mother in my life, used to gently challenge people to remove the word “busy” from their vocabulary.


Try it, especially at this time of year. The world calls us to be busy—and we want to make ourselves appear busy/important—but God calls us to rest. “Come to me all who are weary . . . and I will give you rest,” says Jesus.


The gift of this season is silence, waiting, divine rest, and holy darkness. Let us ponder all these things in our hearts.

Will Braun welcomes feedback at editor@canadianmennonite.org.

Read more editorials:
2,000 years later in Bethlehem . . .
My prayer
3 lessons from a bumpy Sunday

This was the quiet view out of Braun’s window as he wrote about Advent.

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I too think it is important that we "tune out" and learn to listen in silence to the world around us. I do think there is much to be gained from cultivating the silence. I don't know though that the embryonic Jesus in the womb may have experienced much silence. Instead perhaps he experienced the constancy of Mary's heartbeat, beating in time with the ancient natural drumbeat and rhythms of life.

As for Handel's "Messiah," I am confused by the seemingly cultish worship of this oratorio in the various Mennonite churches I have attended. To my mind, the Messiah too beats with an agonizing drumbeat: the heartbeat of the thousands of slaves, imprisoned on the boats of the South Sea Company and the Royal African Company — companies involved in the slave trade which Handel heavily invested monies in and made tidy profits from.

The time of Advent is a good time for reflection, often in silence, and often we hear the drumbeat of our own hearts within this silence and know that Jesus heard it too. Handel's "Messiah," for me, not so much.

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