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Festive Silence

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The weeks leading up to Christmas are a noisy time amid the constant din of advertisements, Christmas music, and planning for the holidays. In this atmosphere it can be difficult to quiet our souls in preparation for the coming of the Christ child. An ascetic plunge into silent preparation this Advent may seem like the only alternative to cranking the Christmas tunes to get in the spirit of the season. But perhaps there is a way in which a festive silence is necessary to suppress the noise occupying our spirit. This may be the silence we need to prepare to enter more fully into the festival of Christmas when it comes.

This silence does not need to be thought of as a sort of Lenten “music fast,” but rather as a silence that encompasses the joyful hope of the coming of Emmanuel. Then, at Christmas, when God comes to dwell with us (truly a time for the festival to begin) we are prepared to receive him. Allowing God’s indwelling in our lives requires radical openness and careful preparation. Even if we feel prepared to live with God dwelling with us, we cannot allow him in if our spirits are not listening for the tiny voice of Christ from the manger. Listening is a form of anticipation that can prepare us to put all else aside for Christ when he comes.

In this way, the silent moments of listening this Advent can still contain an air of excitement. After all, it seems that there is something in all of us which especially appreciates the small joys that the Advent season brings, for example:

  • Opening a new box on the Advent calendar each day
  • Hanging a new ornament on the Jesse Tree
  • Preparing gifts for loved ones
  • Setting up the crèche scenes in the home
  • Decorating gingerbread houses with children

There is a way in which the little joys of Advent make the celebration of Christmas all the more delightful because we have been prepared through excited expectation. Taking time for some silence in the days leading up to Christmas may make the bells and the carols sound just that much more sweet. Likewise, if we have quieted our spirit, we will be prepared to join in with the multitude proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).

The festive silence into which we can enter becomes analogous to the moment of final preparation a bride takes at her wedding before processing down the aisle, with a thunderous organ in the background, to meet her groom. At the moment she sees the bridegroom, all the noise around her does not subsist or overwhelm, but falls in its proper place within the moment. Likewise, when the Bride, the Church, prepares this season for the birth of her eternal Groom, her members must ensure that aspects of the festival don’t drown out the reason for the merrymaking himself.

As Christians, we live in hope of the eschatological festival, the wedding feast of the Lamb. Though this life is filled with much goodness, joy, and peace, we know that this does not compare to the jubilation of that for which we hope. This Advent, as we wait in hope of the coming of Christ, let us practice silence with the most festive of spirits so that when Christmas comes we may welcome Christ with the exuberant joy we have reserved only for him.

Featured Photo: Berenice Garcia; CC-BY-2.0.

Madeline Running

Madeline Running is a senior studying Theology and Catholic Social Tradition at the University of Notre Dame and an undergraduate fellow with the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.