Time magazine made headlines last week when it chose for its Person of the Year several persons: the women who had come forward to break their silence about powerful men who had sexually harassed and abused them.
Time called these women “The Silence Breakers,” women who are saying in effect, “Enough.”
Enough of looking the other way.
Enough of accepting what’s unacceptable.
Enough of the smirks and the shrugs and the tolerance for what is, frankly, intolerable.
Enough. The time has come to change.
It is a powerful message for our time—and the time, my brothers and sisters, isn’t just the end of the year.
It is Advent. Attention must be paid.
Here we are: halfway through the great season of reckoning. This is Advent. Traditionally, this is to be a time when we remove ourselves from the noise of life, to better prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ and the coming of Christmas.
One of the great hymns of this season even commands us:
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence And with fear and trembling stand Ponder nothing earthly minded For with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descending Comes our homage to demand.”
This is a time to embrace whatever quiet we can find. To surround ourselves in silence.
But then, into this comes a voice crying in the wilderness, another powerful Silence Breaker.
A man named John.
In the desert of our days, in this season of reckoning, he calls us to account.
And he also cries out to a sinful world: enough!
Enough of crooked pathways detours, roadblocks.
Enough of meandering and wandering.
The Messiah is coming. Make a path for him. Clear the road! Get your lives in order.
Enough of deflection and distraction, excuses and explanations. Enough of living in a way that tolerates the intolerable and accepts the unacceptable.
Enough. The time has come to change.
This is the Silence Breaker we all need to hear.
And this is the message we need.
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
This is the cry of Advent—the call of the season of reckoning.
The cry of the baptist is a cry to shatter another kind of silence: the silence of sin, to stop doing what we have always done, to awake from our slumber, to repent.
He calls on us to break the silence of complacency.
The silence of the status quo.
To a world that has been going along to get along, a world that has been winking at sin and looking the other way, the wild man in the desert says it is time for all of us to look at who we are, where we are, how we live, what we choose.
Our old ways need to end. It is a message of conversion.
Are we getting the message?
Several years ago, Pope Benedict spoke of John the Baptist during one of his Angelus messages. He said: “John the Baptist reminds us, Christians of our time, that we cannot stoop to compromises with the love of Christ, his word, the Truth. The truth is the truth, and there is no compromise.”
The great Biblical commentator William Barclay put it another way: “John was effective,” he wrote, “because he told people what in their hearts they knew and brought them what in the depths of their souls they were waiting for.”
What they were waiting for is what we are waiting for: glad tidings of comfort and joy. A message of hope.
The reading this day from Isaiah speaks to people in need of comfort. Isaiah was writing thousands of years ago, but he speaks to us just as urgently in 2017—addressing a world teetering on the brink of war; a world reeling from the private sins of public men; a world facing terror, and economic uncertainty, and doubt. But in the face of all that, Isaiah brings us this news about the one we are waiting for:
“Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”
He is telling us what the psalmist described: The Lord is our shepherd.
In his arms, we will know mercy and tenderness, compassion and hope.
There is nothing we will want.
We need to spend these coming days holding fast to that hope, treasuring God’s promise of salvation and comfort.
And we need to heed the message of John the Baptist, a message of conversion and renewal and change.
As we prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist today, let us prepare to receive him with open arms and open hearts on Christmas morning.
An excellent place to start is confession. This is an opportunity to give ourselves over to grace—preparing for Christ’s coming by removing the obstacles, straightening the highway, leveling the rugged land.
A lot of that work can only be done on our knees in prayer.
As we’ve seen in the news over the last few weeks, our culture and our country need to change. The Silence Breakers needed to be heard.
But as we’ve seen in the Good News proclaimed this morning, the great Silence Breaker of Advent needs to be heard, as well. The beginning of Mark’s gospel is the beginning of our own call to change.
John the Baptist’s great message of this season is a lesson for our lives. He is telling us “Enough.”
Here and now our great work begins.