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.
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
(Christmas Carol – Do You Hear What I Hear?)
As we again begin our Advent pilgrimage to the manger, the question of the little lamb to the shepherd boy in this well-known carol has both intrigued and haunted me. I recently found myself somewhat tempted by the rhythms of the cultural Christmas chaos around us. Notwithstanding my resistance to engaging the consumer chaos that now seems to begin right after the not-so-holy holiday of Halloween, I could feel the pull into the vortex of online shopping and random running around. This prompted me to pause and refocus my spirit, for as you and I claim, there is so much more to this season that culminates on the 25th of December. The power and significance of this season is captured in the simplicity of the words of this carol that I have loved and sung since childhood. Its message reminds us to reflect on what it is we do “see and hear” in this season of great hope and expectation.
As a people called to help others remember the birth of Jesus, we are sometimes caught in the trap of what has often been referred to as the Christmas machine. The Christmas machine is often characterized by the image of tinsel and the sounds of cash-registers ringing. These are not the images and sounds to which you and I are invited to pay attention. These are not the images and sounds that will touch our souls and transform our lives. As we begin our Advent journey toward Bethlehem, it is probably wise to pause and reflect on the images and sounds to which we are indeed attentive, intentionally unplugging the sounds of the cultural Christmas machine.
We can unplug that machine by reflecting on the lighting of the Advent wreaths at church and in our homes. We can unplug that machine by looking to the Biblical Nativity story and its powerful simplicity as we embody the powerful reality of that story in our lives. We can unplug that machine by looking to the human stories that have captured the spirit of the birth of the Christ-child. Those stories are found in each of our congregations and communities of faith. They are celebrated with singing and holiday concerts at our churches, pageants and tableaus capturing the story of the nativity – children, youth and adults retelling the story of the child born in Bethlehem. These are the sights and sounds that will quiet our souls. They will compel us to look faithfully to the evening sky. They will open our hearts and eyes to the light dancing in the night, breaking into the darkness. They will open our ears to the songs and sounds of angels high above the trees.
As we again sojourn together toward the manger, I invite you to pause and reflect on what it is you “see and hear”? Are your heart and mind ready to see that “star” dancing in the night? Are your heart and mind ready to hear that “song” ringing out high above the trees? It is to these images and sights that you and I have been called. May we be like the little lamb and shepherd boy – open to what God has to say anew. May we be open to how God uses the simple sounds and sights around us to break into our darkest realities. Finally, may we be open to hearing the sounds and songs of angels celebrating the birth of the Christ-child once again. Let us follow those sights and sounds – as we embrace the hope of this first Advent week.