In the silence of last Sunday’s meeting for worship I heard one of the best Advent sermons ever.
Some describe unprogrammed Quaker meetings as non-liturgical, meaning lacking the standard form of a religious service. Others, and I fall in this camp, recognize structure to the meeting for worship and refer to it as a liturgy of silence.
Unprogrammed meetings do not generally follow a liturgical calendar. Historically, Friends believe every day is holy and sacramental. While many Quakers “draw spiritual nourishment from our Christian roots and strive to follow the example of Jesus… many other Quakers draw spiritual sustenance from various religious traditions” and some prescribe to no religious system.
But in the silence of last Sunday’s meeting for worship I heard one of the best Advent sermons ever. To understand this, you may also need to know a little more about Quakers.
According to Friends General Conference:
“Quaker worship is based on silent waiting, where we expect to come into the presence of God. In this living silence, we listen for the still, small voice that comes from God… Worshiping together in silence is a way for a community to be brought together in love and faithfulness.
During silent worship, anyone—adult or child—may feel inspired to give vocal ministry (speak out of the silence)… Such messages may be offered several times during a meeting for worship…“
During Advent, Christian liturgical communities mark the four Sundays before Christmas with expectant waiting and preparation for the Light of God incarnate in the form of Jesus. Expectant waiting. That’s what Quakers do every Sunday – sit in silent expectancy.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent the sacred silence was accentuated by unscripted, Spirit-inspired messages of hope, peace, joy, and love – the very themes of the expectant season of Advent.
I’ve often wondered what draws Quakers to sit in communal silence. This Sunday’s first messenger spoke truth to this mystery. He expressed his gratitude for a community willing to gather in the hope that even one person may have the inspiration and courage to edify the entire meeting with a message of encouragement and wisdom. His appreciation for those gathered was genuine and affirming, and I believe his words set the tone for what was to follow.
‘See, I am making all things new.’
A woman stood to her feet and recognized that these are challenging days. From divisive politics to seemingly irreversible climate change, one can easily feel overwhelmed, cynical or despondent. But she spoke words of peace.
Reminding us that winter solstice promises that the (L)ight will return, she used this to speak metaphorically about the promise of new life. And then quoting the most life-affirming phrase of the apocalyptic revelation of St. John, she reminded us of a mysterious promise, “See, I am making all things new.” How wonderful it was to hear such trustworthy and true words.
What do you do when you want to choose efficiency and comfort for the holidays but it’s your children who remind you of what matters most? This was the reflection of a mother in the meeting for worship.
This mother did not look forward to the idea of many hours of solo-driving in a car full of kids and gifts. She proposed to her children that they opt for air travel but forgo bringing gifts so as to reduce stress and save money on luggage costs. But one of the younger children penetrated her heart with a reminder that driving would not just mean extra money and fewer gifts, driving with a full car represented what mattered most to the child – exchanging tokens of love with those who matter most.
With this reminder from a wide-eyed child the mother was able to adjust her expectations and realign her values and before Friends proclaim that she was looking forward to the drive where the visit with family would include a jubilant exchange gifts and love.
Sitting alongside a Friend who lives with a terminal illness, another woman interrupted the liturgical silence with divine words of comfort. I’m not sure if she knew the man she was sitting beside, much less that he is confronting his own mortality with courage and cancer, but her words were a balm to anyone struggling with fear. Yes, these are hard days she expressed; days when we may fear our circumstances or even death. But she reminded us that love is stronger than fear and that fearless love is always present and active. When she sat down I noticed my courageous, cancer-ridden friend reach out and grab her hand in gratitude and as love-in-action.
So maybe every moment is an invitation to live with an advent spirit every day.
Advent Every Day
Maybe Quakers aren’t liturgical. Maybe Quakers don’t celebrate Advent. But Quakers do believe every moment is holy and that silence is holy expectancy. So maybe every moment is an invitation to live with an advent spirit every day.