On this Second Sunday of Advent, God invites us to go to a specific place: the desert. In the Gospel we hear about the people going out to the desert to listen to John the Baptist. God wants us also to go the desert. Not the desert of Judea, but one much closer: the desert of the human heart. The desert is a place free from distractions, a place where a person can be alone with God. Another word for the desert is silence. In silence we can encounter God and, by meeting him, we can find our true selves.
Silence, time alone without distractions – that’s easier said than done. We are surrounded by noise – by media and advertisements that constantly try to grab our attention. The holiday season is particularly noisy.
Unfortunately, noise not only surrounded us – we seek it. We make the choice to turn on the TV, to fire up the computer or to plug in the IPod. Time does not matter when a person engages in their favorite diversion.
There is an irony in this: People can spend hours in diversion or entertainment. On the other hand, when we try to pray, five minutes can seem like eternity. We begin thinking about something left undone. It didn’t enter our mind when we were playing the video game, but now it seems like it just won’t wait. It is hard to go to the desert. I know that myself. It’s hard to be alone with no distraction. We run from silence.
One reason we resist silence is because we do not like to face our actual condition. Not just our insufficiency and our mortality, but something else. There is something amiss inside us. We have taken a wrong turn, gone down a false path. For that reason, when people went out to the desert, the first thing John said was, “Repent.” The word means, “change your mind, get a new way of thinking.” Few people want to change their way of thinking. It can be scary to see ourselves and our lives as it really is.
Jesus wants to get at the root of our life. What is at the root of all this unhappiness? We can only find the answer in silence. Jesus wants to get at the root of our unhappiness. In today’s Gospel we hear these words: “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.” Jesus doesn’t want some surface change. He wants us to become new men, new women, new people. That won’t happen by our own power. It requires the Holy Spirit.
I would like to sum up with two words. The first, of course, is “silence.” During Advent we need to find a time of silence – no TV, no computer, no Ipod, not even a cell phone. Silence is not always comfortable. It will make us aware of ourselves – and how we separate ourselves from God and others. But silence will open us to a more powerful reality. It also begins with “S” – the Spirit. On our own we cannot get to the roots of the problem. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. By silence, we recognize our limitations so that we can be open to the Spirit.