Do You Hear What I Hear?
The announcements of the birth of Jesus are notable in the contrasts between how miraculous and yet ordinary they were. In many ways they were over the top, as befitting the birth of the King of Glory, yet were received by the simple and lowly, which was in keeping with His humility.
First the angel came to announce to the parents. That is certainly uncommon, but not unheard of in the biblical narrative. Off the top of my head I can think of Isaac, Samson, and John the Baptists whose births were announced to their mother and/or father by angels. In all these cases the angels spoke to the parents to prepare them for very extraordinary children.
Then we have a host of angels joining together to announce and celebrate the birth of Jesus to shepherds in the country side, telling them the amazing news that not far from them, in Bethlehem, City of David, a Savior, the Messiah would be found. Again, an over-the-top announcement, but the recipients were lowly shepherds—a class of people so ill-thought-of by their countrymen that they were not permitted to even give testimony in court because they were considered unreliable. Why wouldn’t God make His spectacular announcement over the streets of Jerusalem, over the temple or Herod’s palace? Why was the message given to witnesses few would believe?
Next we have the special star that captured the Magi’s notice. “At last,” we might think, “an announcement to people of stature! Now here are witnesses to believe!” But as noble as these Wisemen may have been, they were also foreigners, Gentiles, thus despised by the Jews. Herod did have enough savvy (and Samaritan blood) to hedge his bets by sending his men to Bethlehem to tie up any potential loose ends, but the story of the Wisemen went largely unreported among the rest of the nation, very likely suppressed so Herod’s enemies would not have any advantage.
The Holy Spirit had also stirred up the spirits of a few faithful, lowly servants, like Elisabeth, Anna, and Simeon, making them aware that the advent of the Messiah was pending. But through Anna and Simeon frequented the Temple, there is no indication that the Priests and Levites were in any way prepared or eager to receive God’s promised Messiah.
It’s a good reminder that God speaks to the humble. When He wants to make His point clear to them, sometimes He even speaks to them in spectacular ways, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this message will be believed by those who haven’t heard it firsthand themselves.
The question we must ask ourselves when we have heard from God (whether we hear the still, small voice of the Spirit or the startling voice of an angel) is, “What do I do with what I have heard?” God’s reason for speaking to these people about His Son’s birth was different in each case. He spoke to Joseph because he had a lot to absorb—his fiancé, a virgin, was pregnant. Joseph wasn’t supposed to proclaim what he was told, just obey. Mary, too, “pondered these things in her heart.” Some things we hear from God are for our heart alone. But the shepherds couldn’t be kept silent about what they’d experienced, praising God with joy and telling others about what they’d seen. We need to ponder the purposes behind our revelation.
The lessons we can take from this include that what we hear or see from God may be for us alone, or may be for proclamation. Our duty is to discern and obey. Paul talks about people that made a big deal about their spiritual experiences in order to draw attention to themselves. A good question to ask before we disclose what God has told us is, “What is my motive?” Thousands have lost their lives because obedience to the word of the Lord meant proclaiming what they have heard, despite the danger. Their motive was clearly not self-promotion. Others, like Mary, have kept what they’ve heard in their hearts.
We may not be at risk of physical death if obedience means that we tell others what God has said, but we may not be believed, and we could experience social death. But if God is prompting us to tell them what we have heard from Him, then we must courageously and joyfully obey!
That “joyfully” part is so winsome and vital. When people can see and sense that what we have heard and experienced is something that has changed our lives, filling us with joy, it will make them thirsty to hear what we have heard, and receive it with the same joy we have. Like the shepherds, our enthusiasm should not be contained, whether our proclamation is believed or not. It is the work of God to open hearts, and it is our job to be joyfully obedient to the message we have heard.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries