I recently finished reading Shusaku Endo’s Silence in preparation for the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese that will be released on Christmas day. It’s a haunting story of Jesuit priests in Japan during the height of 17th century persecution. Two priests are on a mission to find out what really happened to one of their mentors—rumors suggest that he apostatized, that he recanted his faith in the face of persecution. As they search they discover a harsh existence in which Christian converts face brutal torture, imprisonment, and death, all for a faith that by all accounts doesn’t look much like European Christianity. Throughout the story the main character is silent—God never speaks, never answers their prayers for the suffering to stop, never gives a sign that God is even listening.
Silence is a Catholic story. If protestants had written it there would be line after line about God’s sovereign will, about God’s plan; it would be a story filled with words, heavy handed doctrines, and absolute certainty. It’s an over generalization, I know, but protestants are not very good at silence. We feel the need to fill the space, to correct, to explain. We’re not very good at doubt either—we try to crush it wherever it appears. So protestants make movies like God is not Dead, and we wonder why our young people are leaving? Could it be the Christianity that we project is too simplistic? It doesn’t connect with the complex reality people experience—a reality full of suffering and loss.
Advent is a time of silence. In the midst of all the color, and music, and noise, God bides God’s time. God waits. In the midst of the inhumanity of Aleppo, trucks barreling into parents and children, presidents and world leaders talking about building up nuclear arsenals, God waits. Most people bear the weight of God’s silence in their own lives. Family members dying of cancer, relationships fractured beyond repair, metal illness and depression that render loved ones unrecognizable. We pray, we ask for healing, we plead for some form of divine intervention; all we want is to hear God speak. All we want is some sign to give us hope.
Pregnant silence—that’s the silence of advent. God does not speak, so we wait. In advent we hear the promise… we trust in the promise… our hope hangs on the promise. We wait for the baby to be born in the manger.