Do You Hear?
Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Our Scripture passages are packed with words of hope. It was a home that they had only heard about.
Their homeland was a wasteland.
Nearly every home, farm or business had been torn down and left in disrepair.
The city wall was gone.
Their famous temple had been destroyed.
The people were devastated.
We have had so much bad news day after day that we need to hear some words of hope.
"Do you hear what I hear?"
Said the night wind to the little lamb.
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite."
Here was something new.
Something unexpected in the air.
The passage in Isaiah 61 occurs more than 500 years before the birth of Christ.
It was a message to those who had grown up in exile.
Their grandfathers had lost the war with Nebuchadnezzar and had been taken as exiles to Babylon.
Now the exiles were permitted to return to their homeland.
The prophet of God brings unexpected, good news to those depressed people.
Blessings will be bestowed on these needy people.
The horrible conditions will be reversed: the oppressed will hear good news, the brokenhearted
will be embraced, and prisoners will be set free, all who mourn will be comforted.
And God proclaims: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them...
they [shall be known as] a people whom the Lord has blessed."
"Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea."
Now move ahead five centuries.
Go to a little town in the hill country of Judea.
Go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
After years of trying to have a child, Elizabeth is pregnant with her first child.
Elizabeth's young cousin is visiting with her.
She is engaged to be married, and she is also pregnant.
She tells Elizabeth how an angelic visitor had visited her, and of his wonderful announcement.
In Franco Zefferelli's film, "Jesus of Nazareth,"
Mary is seen as worried about Joseph not believing her story.
In the movie Elizabeth says, "Tell him that God gives life where no life was thought
to be possible."
Mary knew the days ahead would not be easy.
She would have to endure the whispers and the ridicule of neighbors.
She knew that she would have the stares of people everywhere she went.
She also knew that those who had been "friends" would try to avoid her.
She could also expect criticism even from her own family.
And then, how would she deal with the doubt that Joseph would probably have.
Listen to the great faith of Mary: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done
great things for me, and holy is his name."
With eyes of faith, just as the prophet of old did, Mary sees a hope that others do not see:
"He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
"Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
'Do you hear what I hear?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you hear what I hear?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold--
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold' "
Something wonderful and totally unexpected.
It is word of hope in a hopeless world.
I hope that all of us will hear that message today.
That message is for us.
It is the message of the coming of Jesus.
In 1994, two Americans received an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to come
to Russia and teach morals and ethics (based on Biblical principles) in the public schools.
They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage.
About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of
a government-operated program were in the orphanage.
They related the following story in their own words:
"It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time,
the traditional story of Christmas.
We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem.
Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born
and placed in a manger.
Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened.
Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.
Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger.
Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.
(No colored paper was available in the city.)
Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw.
Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown were used for the baby's blanket.
A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt.
The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.
All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat -- he looked to be about 6 years old
and had finished his project.
As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.
Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.
Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began
to repeat the story very seriously.
For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings
accurately, until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.
Then Misha started to ad-lib.
He made up his own ending to the story as he said,
'And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.
I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay.
Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him.
But I told Him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did.
But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift.
I thought maybe if I kept Him warm, that would be a good gift.
So, I asked Jesus, 'If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?'
And Jesus told me, ``If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me."
``So, I got into the manger, and then, Jesus looked at me and He told me I could stay with Him
-- for always."
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that flowed down his little cheeks.
Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook
as he sobbed and sobbed.
The little orphan had found Someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, Someone who
would stay with him -- for always!."
Said the king to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light."
The wail of sirens, the whine of bullets, the cries of mothers, and the sobs of children, like Misha,
in our world are deafening.
They would overwhelm us... if those were the only sounds out there.
But they are not.
``Do you hear what I hear?"
That is not only the question of the Christmas carol, it is the question of Isaiah, it is the question of Mary.
It is the question of faith.
Do you hear what I hear?
Listen... and be blessed.
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White