“Hark! The herald angels sing…” This is the opening verse to one of Charles Wesley’s most famous hymns, and a beloved Christmas carol. The hymn has been revised and gone through various melodic transformations, but one thing has remained constant: the opening word “hark.” It means listen. Listen!
The Word of God repeatedly calls us to listen: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future;” Proverbs 19:20. “He who has ears, let them hear;” Matthew 11:15. “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him;’” Mark 9:7. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches;” Revelation 2:7a.
Listening for and to God’s word is heralded as a precursor to wisdom, safety, and blessing.
Consequently, we are poorer and often feel bereft of blessing when we fail to listen. I fervently believe that our inability to listen to one another lies at the root of our current state of division, rancor, and hostility. Perhaps it is because we are so inundated with talk, chatter, banter, words, and endless noise that we have grown weary of listening. Yet, our ability to understand and grow more compassionate is dramatically increased when we listen to one another -- when we sincerely listen to one another. As theologian Paul Tillich reminds us, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
In my own experience, I have grown to have compassion for or even to love those I previously regarded with suspicion or disdain because I took the time to listen, to hear their story and understand their point of view. It has opened the gateway to deep friendships and lasting connections. Where might we be as a nation and a denomination if we opened ourselves fully to listening to and hearing one another? What do we fear in listening?
As we sing Charles Wesley’s familiar tune this season, may we be moved beyond the melodious harmony to its first message. In this season of giving, perhaps the most gracious and sacred gift we can give one another is the gift of listening.
And, as we harken to each other’s voices, I pray we will also take the time to listen for the voice and will of God in our prayers, and though the witness of those around us. Proverbs 3:6, in The Message, says, “Listen for God’s voice in everything…” This Christmas, and always, may we listen for the coming of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
I wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas!