Do You Hear What I Hear?
Study Guide December 10, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
Some time ago I used this title of a Christmas Song to do a study on listening for the deeper meanings of the Scriptures. But since we are now in the Christmas season let’s use the actual Christmas Carol itself as a stimulus for listening for the deeper meanings of Christmas.
Christmas is a time that calls for us to hear what we normally aren’t listening for and to see what we normally aren’t looking for. For example: In the Carol it says: “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.” We often think of that appearance of the Angels to the Shepherds: “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13-14 NASU I wonder how many of the Shepherds were asking each other: “Do you hear what I hear?”
Certainly this was a super special experience, but again Christmas is a reminder to us to hear what we usually aren’t listening for and to see what we’re usually not looking to see.
Even King David reminded us to tune into God’s world around us a great deal more than we usually do. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord; For He is coming to judge the earth.” 1 Chron 16:31-33 NASU
Part of the statement we’re trying to make here today is that Christians are to hear what others do not hear and to see what others do not see, like the kinds of things that so many of the Christmas carols speak about and like King David here was talking about. “Let the sea roar, and all it contains.” Could it be that the ocean roar we hear is sometimes the singing of the sea? And could it be that the rustling of the leaves is the clapping of the trees? Now, how can the ocean sing? Well, how can a field exult? How can the forest sing for joy before the Lord? How can the trees clap their hands? How can the heavens be declaring the glory of God, as the Psalmist also said?
And the answer is: It depends upon who is listening? If God hears His creation sounding out His glory, shouldn’t God’s people hear it, too? What if what others call the roaring of the ocean is actually the singing of the seas? What if what others call the rustling of the leaves is actually the clapping of the trees? Could it be that the sounds we hear from God’s creatures are really songs to their Creator?
Certainly, many people of our world are not listening for these expressions of praise from the created world around us. The world has a bad habit of looking at the world around us as though the natural world and the religious world are worlds apart. The world talks about the natural world around as though it is something altogether unrelated to God. But the Psalmist tells us it is just the opposite.
Ps 24:1- “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” NASU Everyone in this world is living in God’s world. Everything in nature is the natural world that God created. Even the animals of this world, though also affected by the curse, have often acted in ways that demonstrate a greater sense of their Creator than many people have. Do you recall the episode when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt of a donkey? Mark 11:2-3- “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here.” NASU Think about that: If you want have a gentle ride on an animal that you can trust, well, you are not going to pick a colt of a donkey that no one had ever sat upon, let alone ever ridden before! You don’t just sit on an unbroken colt and have perfect co-operation from the colt. The natural response of an unbroken donkey is to freak out the first time a person tries to sit on it. But this was no ordinary person…and this was not a natural response of this natural animal. Why? Because this animal sensed something supernatural about its rider…it sensed its Creator.
Actually, history is filled with experiences from the animal world demonstrating their connection with their Creator. In fact, they seem to obey God more readily than many people do. Remember that other donkey, Balaam’s donkey, that not only obeyed, but even spoke a message to Balaam from God? And then there was the raven that fed Elijah when Elijah was singing the blues? And what about the whale or the great fish that sensed the will of God and not only swallowed Jonah when it was appointed to swallow him, but even delivered Jonah up on the shore when it was the appointed time to deliver him up.
The point is that we, as God’s people, are to hear things that others are not listening for. It’s like with the Christmas Carol; Angels We Have Heard on High. The first verse says, ‘Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains in reply echo back their joyous strains’…and you know how the rest of it goes. But again, ‘the mountains reply in joyous strains.’ It’s almost like creation itself responded in some way to our Creator and Savior’s first advent, with the oceans singing and the trees clapping and the mountains rejoicing, and so on. It’s interesting that ever since the Lord Jesus went back to Heaven the Apostle Paul describes the sounds of creation another way: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Rom 8:22 NASU It’s like if we had ears to hear it we would hear a ‘groaning’ in the sounds coming from the natural world around us, like a yearning for the return of its Creator to come in His second advent…to come back and restore all nature and all creatures of nature to their rightful condition.
But that brings us back to Christmas, because it seems that at that first Christmas, all creation sensed it was now closer to that time, since it’s Creator had come. We can see that or hear that in the words of ‘Joy to the World’. The second verse says: ‘Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns, let men their songs employ’…now notice…’while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy.’ There it is again; it’s like when the Creator came to Earth in the body of the Savior, the fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains took a break from their groaning and instead ‘repeated their sounding joy’. Why? Because the Hope had come. Jesus’ coming to Earth brought hope not only to the people of God, but also to all of God’s creation and to God’s creatures.
Sometimes scoffers say that ideas like this about the world are just religious ideas and should be kept separate from the natural world. Well, here’s an important reality check about that: The only world there is, is a religious world. There is no such thing as a world that is not religious, nor is there any such thing as a ‘non-religious person’. They may think they are non-religious, but every person and everything on Earth and in this world and in all the worlds of God’s created universe have been created as religious entities. Being religious is not an option for anyone. The only option anyone has is who or what is every religious person on Earth going to worship and serve? Will it be the Creator and Savior who made them or will it be some other created person or thing…including themselves? That’s another reason that all creation is groaning. It’s like the Apostle Paul explained: Rom 1:21-23- “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” NASU Notice how man himself is included in the things ungodly people worship. The worst idol is the idol of ‘self’. Even Satan found that out, but he still worships himself anyway.
But back to Christmas again. Christmas reminds us all of the hope we have because our Creator didn’t leave this fallen world to remain that way and waste away that way. The Carol ‘Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus’ reminds us of that. It says: “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art…”So even in the groaning of creation we ought to still be able to hear joy, because our Hope has come in Jesus Christ. And our ‘Hope’ is coming again; coming back!
So when Christians, when we, hear the roar of the ocean, hear the rumbling in the clouds, hear the rustling of the trees, hear the sounds of the animals, and so on, we can say: “Do you hear what I hear? It’s the sounds of ‘Hope’. All of creation is not only groaning as it awaits its redemption, it’s also calling out for it; calling out to its Creator and Savior, the Hope of all the Earth.”
In every Christmas Carol that is sung, even in the midst of whatever else the song is about, it’s about this Hope of all the Earth. And, according to the carol of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, even the stars are getting in on the praises. In the second verse it says: ‘For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above, while mortals sleep the Angels keep their watch of wond’ring love, O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth! And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.’ And yes, sometimes Angels are referred to as stars, but again, both are proclaiming the glory of God. Like in ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’, verse 2 says, “Sing choirs of Angels, sing in exultation, O sing, all ye bright hosts’…or citizens, as it says in some versions. Anyway, it finishes with ‘Glory to God, all glory in the highest!’ Those who are closest to God, like his Angels, are overwhelmed by God’s glory. They see God’s glory throughout God’s world. Again, the heavens declare God’s glory…’In Excelsis Deo’ or ‘Glory to God in the highest’.
And since we have much to learn from the Angels, we should learn to look for more and more things in which to give glory to our God in the highest. We are to listen for more things over which to give glory to our God in the highest. And yes, we sing about it, and the carols tell how the Angels sing about it, and the Scriptures even tell us creation sings about it, but how about this? They also tell us that God sings about us! That’s right. Look at Zeph 3:17- “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” NIV This Hebrew word for ‘singing’ here is ‘rinnah’, and it can either be translated as ‘shouts of joy’ or ‘singing’. I remember one of the inspiring things about the ‘Worthy Is the Lamb’ play that used to be held over by the White Oak river, was when Jesus sang. You weren’t used to hearing Jesus sing in any film or play about His life. But it caused you to think about how God must sound when He sings. No doubt we will be amazed at the singing of the Angels, but I imagine that when God sings, all of the citizens of Heaven are going to stop and listen in awe to God singing.
But think about it: Maybe this Christmas, as we sing the carols ourselves and hear the carols sung by others, maybe we should listen, by faith, for Someone else singing along…listen for the One who rejoices over us with singing! And maybe then ask others around us: ‘Do you hear what I hear?’ No doubt they won’t, so you can tell them about all of this.