O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence?. . .There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand.
I once sat with a woman after her young daughter had just died after struggling with cancer for two long years. This woman turned to me and said, “Where is God? Why didn’t God do something? How could God let a little baby die? Where is my miracle? Where is my baby’s miracle?” We may not be faced with the incredible loss that this woman faced, but we will ask the same questions. We will cry out to God at some point in our lives in this same way.
Several years ago while I was teaching a confirmation class a young man asked me why God no longer did miracles the way He did in Biblical times. I answered him that I do think God still creates miracles, but they are rare and often not dramatic, and that indeed miracles were rare in Biblical times too. If you look at the Bible as a whole, there are far more stories of people crying out to God in pain and despair wondering at God’s apparent absence than there are stories of amazing miracles. The Bible is full of prayers like this one from Isaiah that we heard this morning to Jesus crying out from the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”
It would be so much easier if I could just see God taking some action in this world. It would be so much easier if God would just take definitive action and make definitive statements—no more shades of gray and difficult decisions and questions! But in my experience, shaking mountains are usually caused by shifting tectonic plates, and not by the hand of God. Blinding flashes of light are usually simply lightening and not God tearing open the heavens. The God I know, the God I am familiar with, more often than not speaks in a small still whisper. More often than not my experience is the experience the prophet Elijah had of God as described in 1 Kings 19:11-13:
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
Now this is not to say that some people have not had dramatic and very real experiences of God’s presence. Look at the apostle Paul’s experience. As Luke describes Paul’s conversion experience, it was full of blinding light and loud voices from heaven. However, though Paul heard God’s voice clearly, those who were with him heard nothing. Even if you have had a dramatic experience of God, it might not be so evident to those around you.
Whether we like it or not, God just doesn’t seem to be into the grand gesture, and most of God’s activity in the world can be explained by those not attuned to it in entirely different ways. Whether we like it or not, God usually speaks to us out of the silence. God usually speaks in a still small voice. And in order to hear this voice we have to actually listen. We have to train ourselves to tune out all the noise of the world and to enter the sheer silence. It is only then that God’s still small voice can be heard by us.
So, I see this Advent as an opportunity for all of us to find some time each and every day to tune out the noise of the world, spend some time in prayer and reading Scripture and embrace the sheer silence. May you know the sheer silence in which God is present this Advent Season.