Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on December 17, 2016 at 4:00PM and December 18, 2016 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
As you make your way over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house this Christmas, or wherever else you might be going, there is so much that will keep you occupied as you travel: a cellphone, a laptop, an iPad, an iPod, a video game, a DVD of your favorite holiday movie, the list goes on and on. When I was growing up we didn’t have any fancy technology to keep us busy on long trips, we had the Be Quiet Game. The Be Quiet Game is simple: you do not talk or make any noise whatsoever for as long as you possibly can. Any parent knows how hard this is for a child to do. But my parents convinced my sisters and me that this was one of the most exciting games that you could play and we would try really hard to be quiet longer than anyone else to win whatever the prize might be. Although now as I look back I realize that my parents were the true winners of this game, because for however long the game lasted, they enjoyed peace and quiet.
I mention this because today I want to talk about silence. It’s something that we do not get enough of in our lives. So much noise surrounds us all the time, especially during Christmas. It is a noisy holiday: the traffic, the shopping, the crowds, and the parties. We play Christmas songs to drown out traffic and we wear ear buds to drown out the crowds. We drown out noise with more noise because we are uncomfortable with silence. How often we leave the TV on in the background just to cover up silence. I work for PNC Bank and in the new PNC Tower they pump white noise over a sound system throughout the building to cover up silence. How odd it seems when the power in our home goes out and the furnace, refrigerator, computer, TV and everything else stops and there is just complete quiet. It makes us uncomfortable and if it goes on for too long it just might drive us crazy.
But silence is a gift and there is nobody better to illustrate that fact than Joseph, the husband of Mary and the adoptive father of Jesus. He is one of the most important figures in the Bible, in all of history really, and yet in all of scripture he is never quoted once. He never utters a single word. I am certain that he spoke in his lifetime, after all he ran a carpentry business to provide for his family and he courted or dated the most important woman in history. But certainly one of the most important pieces of information the gospel writers wanted to convey to us about Joseph was how important silence was in his life.
Today’s gospel is a good case in point. Joseph learns that Mary, his betrothed wife, is pregnant and he knows that he is not the father. How would we react in such a situation? We might be upset, angry, and say a bunch of horrible things that we might regret later. We might go on an online rant because that is a very easy and quick way to voice displeasure about something to a very large number of people. A neighbor of ours was recently involved in infidelity. I know because somebody put up signs all over the neighborhood with all the details it in big black letters. In today’s gospel Joseph was probably upset and angry as well and he had every right under the Law of Moses to have Mary publicly stoned for what had happened, yet he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and “decided to divorce her quietly.” Even this very difficult situation Joseph remains silent and quiet.
It’s hard for us to be silent in difficult situations, even for the short silent “count to ten” recommended before you say something stupid. I think it is especially hard for us today because we can text, post, and tweet instantly to everyone, yet there is no online equivalent of silence. You cannot text, post, or tweet nothing. I tried. It doesn’t work. The online world encourages noise. It rewards quantity of words over quality of words. When something is trending online, it really means how much noise it is generating, both positive, and even more likely, negative. We need to limit negative noise in our lives, and that starts with a little silence.
We need silence in our lives for our own good. Researchers have found that only ten minutes or so of silence each day has a number of benefits for our body, mind, and lives. Silence refreshes your body, helping you to relax, recharge, and relieve stress. Silence is therapeutic for your mind, helping you to solve difficult problems, focus, and be more creative. It is good for your life and relationships because it brings peace, understanding, and helps you disengage for a while.
These are all wonderful things, but the researchers missed the most important benefit of silence: the ability to hear God speaking to us. A busy life filled with noise and activity prevents us from hearing God’s voice. Silence opens up our hearts to hear God speaking to us so that we can understand his plan and purpose for our life. It was in silence that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him God’s plan for his life, to not to be afraid to take his wife Mary into his home. Joseph awoke and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him without saying word…again Joseph and his silence. Joseph was able to relax, solve a difficult problem, and find peace all through the silence that allowed him to hear God’s plan for his life, find his purpose, and it changed not only his life, but the entire world, because through his silence our savior Jesus Christ was born.
As we approach Christmas, between the shopping, the trips to grandmother’s house, the parties, and the exchanging of presents, give yourself the gift of silence. Play the Be Quiet Game. Take a few moments from your busy life and put away the technology for a while, remove all the noise and other distractions, and just sit quietly with God for as long as you can. You can’t help but win. Researchers will tell you that giving yourself this gift of will help to refresh your body, mind, and life, and it will help you to bring peace to yourself and those around you. But it will do so much more for you than that, just as it did for Joseph.
Our Lord is coming. Give yourself the gift of silence this Christmas and it will lead you to a much greater gift: God speaking to you in your heart about his plan and purpose for your life.
Our Lord is coming! Rejoice and be glad!