We are now entering the time of year in which we begin to anticipate the coming of Christmas Day. What exactly Christmas Day means to us depends upon the information we gather about Christmas through our senses and then what interpretation we make of that information. Now we know that we gather information through our five senses. The five human senses are the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. These five human senses relaying information to the human brain. Within the brain the information is processed, stored, and then interpreted. That interpretation comes about through our minds. I am drawing a distinction between the brain and our mind because the brain is organ in the body, a very important organ, that receives and sends signals for our bodies to function. The mind on the other hand is not an organism in the body. The mind is how we decide thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and imagination. The mind interprets the experiences received from our senses and received by the brain. Allow me to give you a very simplistic example. Two people step outside. Each feel drops of water falling on their skin because it is raining. One person, a farmer, feels the rain, is happy believing this will be a good day for the crops. The other person, a golfer, feels the rain, is sadden by it, believing this will be a bad day on the links. Both individuals processed the same sensation of rain. Their brains receive the same information. But their minds interpreted the experience of rain completely differently.
I thought it might be useful for us to experience the coming of Christmas Day through our five senses and how we interpret Christmas through them. I would like to begin with our sense of hearing. Of course, we know that the sense of hearing comes through our ears. Sound is detected by the ear and transmitted to the brain. Once processed in the brain, our minds determine how we interpret the sound.
There are many sounds that come into our life. The most common sound is the sound of a voice. Studies vary as to how many words we hear and speak per day. One study suggests that on average an American woman will speak 20,000 words per day. An American man will speak as few as 7,000 words per day. A reason for the difference may be that husbands most often say to their wives, “What did you say?” Regardless of the studies, voice is the most common sound our ears detect, our brain processes and stores, and then, most importantly, our minds must interpret.
It was voice that first revealed the coming of Christmas; the day in which Jesus, God’s own son, would be born into this world. Let’s take a peak into what happened when Christmas was experienced through the sense of sound by listening to a voice so that we might hear what God intends for us. I invite you to turn to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, for that account.
Our Bibles contain four books called Gospels entitled Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which describe the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The word Gospel comes from a Greek word that means “good news.” So, the gospel is the good news found in Jesus.
As we unfold the pages of the gospel according to Luke, we keep in mind that Luke was not present when these events he described took place. Instead, Luke interviewed people who were there and collected their stories. And Luke began the gospel of Jesus with today’s story that compared the powerful and the unrighteous with the meek and the good. Luke began in verse 5 with these words, “In the time of Herod king of Judea.” In Luke’s day, no other words were needed for people to know who Luke was talking about. Herod was well known. People then knew Herod was a king of many wives and yet he murdered his first wife out of suspicion that she wanted others to be king. People knew Herod fathered many children but was suspicious that two of his sons wanted his kingdom, so he killed them. People knew Herod servant of Rome emperors and honored them, not God. He was wealthy. He was ruthless. He was self-absorbed.
Luke compared Herod to some unknown people, named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke said, “There was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.” So Luke’s readers and we learn that Zechariah and Elizabeth were meek. They did their best to be servants of God. They stayed together all their adult lives as husband and wife yearning for a child, but they never had one.
Even though Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth could not be more different from Herod they all shared one thing in common. They were listening to the voice of their god. Zechariah and Elizabeth were moved by the majestic power of God, the eternal Creator. Herod was moved by the worldly gods of power, wealth, and privilege. The Gospel message that Luke is sharing is clear. We all have a god in our life. There are no exceptions. That god can be another person. That god can be money, fame, or popularity. That god can be power, influence, or privilege. That God can be the God of Creation. You can only follow one. Herod followed his god and Zechariah and Elizabeth followed theirs. Now pause for a moment and ask yourself, “Which God am I following?”
Luke was showing us that Zechariah and Elizabeth followed God, the eternal Creator. In that following, Luke revealed to us in verse 9 that “Zechariah was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him [the angel], he was startled and was gripped with fear.” Zechariah was alone in the Temple of God and he expected no one else. Zechariah was doing what was expected of him and expected little from the experience. This is a good point to again pause and ask, “Are we different from Zechariah? Do we do what we feel is expected of us, such as going to church on Sunday, and yet expect little from the experience? Do we do what is expected of us and serve someone in the community and expect little from that experience?” When we expect little, little is what we receive. If we open our lives up to God though and expect him to reveal himself, then we will be in awe of what God is doing right now.
Zechariah did not expect much and so he was startled and fearful of the angel’s appearance. Then things really got overwhelming for Zechariah because the angel began to speak. And with the angel’s voice the sense of hearing entered the Christmas story. An angel, a messenger of God, was standing before Zechariah, to let Zechariah know that his God was on the move. Many years ago, there was a Wall Street company called E. F. Hutton. They had a slogan for their commercials, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” When God speaks directly or through an angel, people listen. Verse 13, the angel said “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” The angel shared a truth we all need to hear. Our voice is heard by God. Zechariah’s voice in prayer to God was that he would be blessed with a child. We need to use our voices in prayer.
Almost 33 years ago, Becky and I went through premarital counseling. At the end of one of the sessions, the pastor asked that we all hold hands and pray. As we held hands, he said, “George, please lead us in prayer.” I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and so prayed but silently. After a minute of silence, the pastor said, “George, I think we are ready. You can start anytime.” I thought to myself, “Start? I am already done.” So, I stumbled through that prayer using my voice. Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying a silent prayer is not effective. What I am saying is whenever you can give voice to your prayer, do so. Let your voice rise to the Lord and fall upon your ears. Zechariah’s prayer that he raised to God was heard and now he would have a son but not just a child, but a voice through which God would speak to the people.
Luke was revealing something to us here about God. God uses his voice. In opening page of the Bible, it says, “God spoke, “Let there be light, and there was light.” And so began God using his voice to bring creation into being out of nothing. This was majestic speaking on God’s part but hard for us to hear and bring into our own life. Luke shared that God was now speaking through the voice of an angel with a message for Zechariah. This is a bit more personal but still a difficult voice to receive. But listen to what was coming.
In verses 14 through 17, the voice Zechariah’s son, a living human being, would possess the ability to bring change to people’s minds. The voice of Zechariah’s son would bring joy and delight to Zechariah. Many would rejoice because of his voice. (16) His voice would bring back many to their Lord their God. (17) His voice would have the spirit and power of God. So powerful would his voice be that parents and children would come before the Lord for wisdom. (17) The voice of Zechariah’s son would have a have a greater purpose—"to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The voice of Zechariah’s son was to make ready the people to hear and listen to the personal voice of the Lord himself. Zechariah’s son would tell people, God was coming and he would use his voice not in sweeping power of Creation but in conversation with his people. God was coming in a way we could all relate because he was coming in human form.
The coming of Zechariah’s son was a wonderful answer to prayer but it was not nearly as wonderful as the good news his son’s voice would give to all; the Lord was coming to speak to all the people. God’s voice would be heard in a most personal way in the coming of his Son, Jesus.
Hearing is the first of our five senses of the Christmas season. God the Creator sent his son to live the human experience and speak to those who would listen of experiencing a Godly life. Seven times in the Gospels Jesus would conclude his message by saying, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Mt. 11:5, 13:9, 13:43; Mk. 4:9, 4:23; Lk. 8:8, 14:35). Even God, the Father, emphasized Jesus’ words. One day with a voice from the clouds like that used to create the world, God thunderous voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mk. 9:7).
We know that not everyone listened to Jesus. They had ears to hear but they interpreted what they heard through a mind that was still hostile to God, the creator. The Bible says that those who continually turn that deaf ear to God will stop hearing God speak to them. The Bible says, God will leave them “and allow them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do. 29 They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, greed, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst things about each other. They gossip 30 and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude, proud, and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They don’t obey their parents, 31 they are foolish, they don’t keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others.32 They know God’s law says that anyone who lives like that should die. But they not only continue to do these things themselves, but they also encourage others who do them” (Romans 1:28-32-ERV). A life separated from God on earth, living for worldly pleasures and power, is a terrible life and it is a life that only gets worse in death. It is not the way God wants us to live. The Bible says to us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The coming of Christmas and the retelling of the true Christmas story is good news because this season and that story allows for our minds to be transformed and renewed. This season and the Christmas story allows us to replace the hostility we have toward God and toward one another with the hope of a new experience with God and one spent in love. We need listen to the story of Christmas but to interpret that story with mind that can determine what is acceptable and perfect before God. This week, let’s use of sense of hearing to listen to our prayers to God, to listen to our words to one another. Is there joy and delight in what we hear? Is there rejoicing in what we hear coming from us? Do our words help others come back to the Lord or do we push them away? Do our words have the power and spirit of God the creator or some other god? Is there wisdom or wisecracks in our words? Are we using our words in prayer and to one another to be ready for the coming of the Lord?
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Amen.