Do You Hear What I Hear?

So goes the question in the famous Christmas song.1 The better question these days is “do you hear what I say,” because most of us aren’t listening.

Israel had concluded God wasn’t listening, either. The time when they had been welcomed in pharaoh’s court (Gen 47:1–6) was long gone. They had been enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years and counting.

Four hundred years ago, the first English colony in the New World wasn’t yet a teenager. The Mayflower was still two years away from landing at Plymouth Rock. Don Quixote was thirteen years old, the King James Bible only seven. Pocahontas (then Rebecca Rolfe) had been dead less than a year.

Four hundred years is a long time. It’s a really long time to not hear from God, especially when you’re allegedly His chosen people. After 400 years, Israel was feeling more like His abandoned people, if they thought about Him at all. A God who loved them would surely not leave them slaves, and in silence, for 400 years. Either He didn’t love them, or He didn’t exist.

An old shepherd in Midian had his own abandonment issues. Forty years before, he had been part of Pharaoh’s court himself, but had killed a man and been forced to flee for his life. God had abandoned him, too; he had (in his eyes) just been defending one of his countrymen. Surely that’s what God would have wanted! Instead, he had spent forty years dealing with some of the stupidest non-human animals on the planet, and not a word from God.

All of this silence came to a head, and a halt, on a mountain called Horeb. God set a bush on fire, but God’s fires don’t need any fuel, so the burning bush that didn’t seem to be any the worse for wear attracted Moses’ attention. Which was, of course, the idea. When God got Moses where He wanted him, He did something Moses, and all of Moses’ kinsmen then alive, had never experienced.

He spoke.

I have seen the affliction of my people, and I have heard their cry, and I have come down to deliver them.

What must that have sounded like to Moses? What must have it have sounded like to the rest of the nation when they finally figured out it was true? (As you may or may not remember, it got off to a rocky start: Gen 5:20–21.) That God hears me/us! Did it sound like the Hallelujah chorus, or “I now pronounce you man and wife”, or “It’s a healthy baby girl”? Did it sound really, really loud, after all those years of silence?2

I don’t know, but I do know that as I was reading this passage a couple of months ago while preparing a message for a group of pastors in Cambodia, I was struck by the fact that no matter what is going on around us, no matter what is happening to us, no matter how long we’ve been suffering in the sounds of silence, God always hears.

Always.

Israel was going to have to remember that, because this wasn’t the only 400-year silence they would endure. After all they had was destroyed due to their disobedience, after the last of their prophets had said his piece, after they were scattered to the four winds, the radio went dead. After Malachi 4:5–6 there was 400 years of nothing but static on the line, and Israel must have had a bad case of déjà vu.

But then Luke 2:7 happened. God broke His silence again, and in that baby who was Him incarnate He said the same thing He said the first time.

I have seen the affliction of my people, and I have heard their cry, and I have come down to deliver them.

(What did that sound like? It sounded like this.)

But this time was different. God’s people had had to endure the previous seasons of silence alone; God’s presence was not with them as they suffered. This time, though, His coming down was permanent. God’s promise through Isaiah had been of God With Us (Im-manu-El), and that baby was the promise fulfilled.

Not only did God hear, but from that point forward, God would be here.

Celebrating that birth sounds like it should be a joyous event, and for many it is. But although that baby we call Jesus (his parents called him something else) set things in motion for all to be right again, we’re not there yet. Bad things still happen to God’s people.

Last month, two families close to us suffered tragedies. A sister died in a car wreck, and a toddler son passed away in the middle of the night. Next Tuesday morning, those families will be feeling the loss even more acutely, because Christmas is for families, and children. Although there are no answers to the questions they’re asking, comfort can be found in the message of the day: God hears, and is here.

That is the miracle of Christmas. It is not in tinsel, or stockings full of sugarplums, or presents and a plethora of pies. It is the assurance that God heard our cries, and saw our afflictions, and came to deliver us.

I pray your Christmas is filled with a sense of God’s presence through His Son.

  1. Definitive version, Connie Scott’s from thirty years ago. Since you asked.
  2. What made it time? Why four hundred years instead of four, or forty? Why allow their slavery in the first place? All great questions for which I have no answers; you can ask God when you see Him.

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