Do you hear what I hear?
All the sounds of Christmas are in full swing here: songs that bring nostalgia, the raucous laughter of cousins and aunts and uncles crammed around the table, those golden few minutes of silence when the door slams closed, after the kids have found that missing glove or hat and boots and finally made it out the door to sled down the big hill.
Do you hear what I hear?
I hear other things too, when I quiet down at Christmas time. I hear kids bickering over the last packet of hot chocolate and who gets to pick the Christmas music. I hear grief that wells up uninvited —the kind we stuff back down or, worse, the kind we can’t seem to contain anymore. I hear the longing for lots more stuff and much less stuff in the same breath, discontent that has nothing to do with the stuff at all. I hear the longing for home, for friends —real friends, for family that once was or isn’t yet. I hear discord and disunity and disappointment and the racing of a distracted mind that can barely listen at all. I hear the ache of all that is hurting and broken and not yet made right in the world.
My mind wanders back to the first Christmas and all the sounds of that event.
Do you hear what they heard?
Mary heard the angel’s voice, and Joseph listened while he slept. The innkeeper heard the invitation, and whatever ox or ass inhabited the stable that holy night heard the cries of a woman in labor. Perhaps all of heaven held its breath, listening, waiting for the very breath that spoke this world into being to pulse over fragile vocal chords: a newborn cry in the night. Wisemen heard the prophecies, before following the star. Shepherds heard the angel choir: Do not be afraid. Even Herod listened to the wisemen’s tale, and chief priests’ interpretation. The angel spoke again, the wisemen returned home another way and Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the Christ child. All throughout the Christmas story, we hear the angels singing, we sense the invitation: listen, listen, listen.
This advent, as we look around this broken world, around our broken tables and neighborhoods, and even, maybe especially in our own homes and hearts, the invitation is for us too: Listen. Like shepherds on the hillside, like Mary to the angel, like Joseph in his dream, we can offer the gift of listening.
We can listen for the joy. Let’s read an unhurried story with a child, listen to someone older than us share their earliest Christmas stories. Let’s laugh together and sing together and make eye contact like it’s 1999. Let’s gather it up, all those very ordinary moments and ponder them in our hearts like Mary did. Let’s listen and give the gift of presence.
And let’s listen to the pain too. God became flesh, and came near our brokenness yet often we pretend we don’t have any – any need, any pain, any sin, any broken places. Let’s listen to the pain, in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, and let it lead us back to the One who comes near, right into the mess of a stable and into the mess of our lives. Let’s make space to be present with each other and with God in our pain.
Let’s listen to those we love the dearest, the ones we take for granted. And let’s listen to those we don’t understand. Let’s learn to look for the Imago Dei – the image of God in every person we meet.
When we make space to listen and give our presence at Christmas, we follow in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph and the ox and the ass and the shepherds and wisemen and all those who heard the good news that first Christmas. And when we get really quiet, when we really listen, we will hear the truest story of all, the one that courses through every joy and and every sorrow known to man, that Christ has come and dwelt among us, the One who made us has come near, the joy of every longing heart.