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Into the desert

December 6, 2015

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A reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C. The readings are Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:4-6, 8, 11 and Luke 3:4-6.

The word of God came to John in the desert….

When I was younger, I was listening to music all the time. We had tapes and tape recorders and then Boomboxes and then Walkmans (remember Walkmans?) and we were listening to music all the time. When I was in college I remember telling people that I could not study if I didn’t have music on. Seems a little crazy to me now – It must be a teen-age thing. But that’s the world we live in; a world that is saturated with noise, with activity, with distractions – all the time. Today’s Gospel tells us that the word of God came to John in the desert. Perhaps that means that if we need to hear the word of God, we have to go into the desert. And leave the music behind!

Now, the Gospel of Luke – we’re now reading the Gospel of Luke as we have begun a new liturgical season; Year C (or third cycle) and so we read Luke – the Gospel of Luke not only tells us where the word of God came to John but also when. It says that it was the 15th reign of Tiberius Caesar and that Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was King of Galilee and Caiaphas was high priest. This is partly shows that these things actually took place. The story of Jesus is not a myth. Myths are general (as they apply to everyone and every time); they are not specific. A myth may begin like: “there was once a man who lived up a mountain….” It doesn’t matter who this man was or where the mountain was, because it’s a myth; it’s made up and that’s not the point. A real story is specific and has details: “In December 1941, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, an American pilot by the name of Kenneth Taylor…” That’s not a myth. There’s too many details. That’s partly what Luke is doing: He’s telling us that these things actually tool place. It was the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, when Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch in Galilee…. we know that these people existed and all those facts can be confirmed. But there is another reason why Luke does this and that is to show what kind of world it was when the word of God came to John in the desert. People who were reading the Gospel of Luke at the time it was written would have know about Tiberius – not a great Roman Emperor (better than Nero and Caligula, but none of them were great); They would have known about Herod – not a great King. He’s the one who had John the Baptist killed because John criticized him for divorcing his wife and marrying his sister-in-law. He’s also the Herod who sends Jesus back to Pilate before the crucifixion. They would have known that Pilate was not very good or respectful of the Jews and also known a few things about Caiaphas. They would have know that this was not a good time for the Jewish people. But still, the word of God came to John in the desert.

Perhaps in the future someone will write about our time and say that “in the early 21st Century, when various terrorist groups were conducting attacks on civilians all over the world; when we were experiencing climate change and there were mass shootings all over the United States. – you can fill in the blanks with the names of your favourite events and tyrannical leaders – the word of God came to someone…” Perhaps to you….

The word of God comes to us in hard times and it comes to us in the desert. So perhaps we need to go into the desert in order to listen to the word of God.

Here are three things you need to know about deserts (not desserts – that’s for another time!) :

1. Deserts are places of silence: We are terrified of silence because silence means that we are alone with our own thoughts. It’s very hard in this day and age to find silence. This Advent, I suggest that you turn off the music, turn off the radio, turn off the TV, put away your mobile device; shut down your computer and dwell in the silence. Go for a walk in the woods. Seek the silence. At first your mind will be flooded with all kinds of thoughts – about work, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, the argument you had with your husband, exams, how you’re going to pay for all your bills, next week’s doctor’s appointment…. don’t try to silence your mind. Let those thoughts come. For everything that comes into your mind, say a prayer – in time they will pass. Let them come and go. Eventually you will find moments of quiet. You may have to go for a few walks in the woods. Don’t be afraid of the silence.

I heard recently about some research that was done that says that kids nowadays don’t have the same basic social skills as kids even a few years older; not just because they are on their mobile devices all the time, but because their parents are on their mobile devices all the time. I remember 15-20 years ago when Baby Einstein was all the rage and babies were sat in front of the DVD player for hours. It was supposed to make them smarter. Instead all these kids have learned is that they need to be stimulated all the time. If you are a teacher of kids who were born in 2007 or later, you may have found that these children are less empathetic than kids you’ve taught in the past; they lack basic social skills. They can’t communicate well. Guess what happened in 2007? We got the iPhone! If you are a parent of young children or are a parent-to-be my advice is to not let them watch TV until they’re at least three years old. And then limit it. Don’t let them play with your tablets – certainly don’t give them their own mobile devices until they are much older (a 7-year-old doesn’t need an iPhone!). Don’t let them have TVs or computers in their room. Don’t have them watch DVDs in the car. Instead talk to them, play with them, read to them and when their older read with them – that’s how babies learn to communicate, by looking at their parents’ faces. Teach your children to pray and teach them to enjoy the silence – take them on those quiet walks in the woods. God will speak to them too!

2. Deserts are places of nothing: There is nothing to do in a desert. This goes with everything I have already said about silence. We are so scared of doing nothing. We have to be busy all the time. Even when we have a moment of quiet – we’re reading or we’re playing Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans or Solitaire on the computer or “doing” something mindless. Even in our prayer time we always feel we have to be doing something: pray the Rosary, go to Adoration, read Scripture, listen to Praise and Worship music…. we are so afraid of doing nothing.

That same study also said that because kids can occupy every second of their life with activity, they have lost the experience of boredom. Boredom is a state that is good because it leads to creativity. I remember when my kids were little and they’d say “I’m bored” and so we would suggest ideas: Why don’t you colour, or read a book; go ride your bike or clean your room?” Of course they didn’t want to do any of those things, but eventually they’d find something and would be entertained with for the next couple of hours. It is those moments of boredom that lead to imagination. I must have been bored when I was a kid, but I don’t remember being bored. I remember going on lots of adventures by myself (I played a lot by myself – no one wanted to play with me : () I climbed trees and I was Tarzan and I rode my bike and I was a cop on a motorcycle chasing a bad guy… Boredom always leads to imagination.

I would go as far as saying that this is the case because God speaks to us in our moments of doing nothing. The Holy Spirit is the source of imagination and creativity. When you go on your quiet walk in the woods, find a nice spot and sit down, close your eyes and do nothing; just be. Let God speak to you.

Go speaks to us in the quiet and in moments of just being.

3. Deserts are uncomfortable places:  It’s hot and dry; you can suffer dehydration and sun stroke; at night you can freeze to death. They are also a bit dangerous: There are wild animals. These are places where we realize that we depend on God. Think of Mary and Joseph on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary is very pregnant; she can go into labour at any moment. She’s  riding a donkey. Joseph is on foot. There are wild animals; there are thieves. It’s hot during the day and cold at night. Everything Joseph does is for his wife and unborn child. Deserts are places where we have to take care of each other and depend on each other. Deserts are places where we have to depend on God. That’s where God speaks to us: in the quiet, in the boredom and when we’re uncomfortable.

I think of Elijah to whom God said to go to up a mountain and into a cave. Then there was a strong wind and then an earthquake and then a fire, but God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. Then there was a quiet and gentle whisper. And God was in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). God can speak to us in the midst of noise and in the midst of distractions and activity, and when we are comfortable, but chances are that we will not be listening. In order to listen to God, you have to go into a cave. If you want the word of God to come to you, you have to go into the quiet, do nothing and don’t be afraid of giving up your comforts and safety. You have to go into the desert.

And when we do, we will make the hills and the mountains low and we will be filling up every valley. We will be straightening his paths; we will be getting rid of all the things that get in the way. That’s when the word of God comes. And when it comes it will tell you to go and prepare the way for others. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!

And when we do, we will be filled with joy, for we will know that the Lord has done great things for us!

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From → English, Reflections

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