Do You Hear Me Now?
Isaiah 40:1-11 and Luke 1:26-38
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
December 10, 2017
Have you heard it? Christmas music is everywhere! On the radio (Deck the halls), in the stores (It’s beginning to look…), outside the stores, Christmas carols are sung by those colleting for Salvation army (Jingle bells). We know that Christmas is coming when we hear Christmas music. And we know that Christmas is coming in church when we hear hymns (Prepare the Way of the Lord, Hark! We Wait with Hope). And we know it is Advent when we hear Scripture readings that we only hear this time of year.
In the reading from Isaiah, half of the verses speak of a voice crying out, the mouth of the Lord speaking words that people living in Exile most needed to hear, words of comfort, promising that every valley shall be lifted up, the uneven ground become level and the rough places a plain. Isaiah was speaking and through him, God was speaking, but the question is: was anyone listening?
God has been trying to speak to God’s people since the very beginning of time, without much success.
· God said to Adam and Eve, “You can eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden, except that one.” But they didn’t listen. They ate of the forbidden tree and were banished from the Garden.
· God sent Moses to lead the people out of slavery and promised them land and freedom. But they didn’t listen. And so they wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 years.
· God sent prophets to speak to the people, to call them back to God’s way. But they didn’t listen.
God decided surely they would listen if the word became flesh. But, who would listen to this crazy plan?
Luke tells us: The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
If an angel appeared to you out of nowhere telling you the Lord was with you, what would you do? Most of us would walk on by. I wonder how many people the angel approached before he found someone who would listen? Maybe Mary wasn’t the first woman the angel spoke to, but the first one who listened.
The angel got Mary’s attention. Mary didn’t dismiss or ignore, but she pondered thoughtfully and carefully. She listened to what the angel had to say: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
Now, even if some of us might have listened to what the angel had to say, at this point, most of us would say, “Right!” and walk away. But Mary continued to listen and wondered: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary was a critical thinker, and curious, open to something new. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
No doubt Mary was overwhelmed at this point. She knew that a pregnancy before marriage was scandalous; even dangerous—she could be stoned. And who would listen to her and believe the story that this is God’s baby? Mary was given time to consider and room to choose. After Mary pondered and wondered, she responded: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
The whole story of the annunciation, the whole story of the incarnation, the whole story of God’s salvation, the whole story of Christmas could not have happened if Mary had not listened. So Mary is not only an example of trust and faith, she also an example of how to listen, especially to voices others ignore.
Ours is a noisy world today. We have news blaring 24/7. We have people telling us what to think, what to do, what to buy, where to go (with GPS), how to vote, who to love, who to hate. It is easy to see how the noise could overwhelm an angel’s greeting or a word of promise about things changing for the better—of valleys being lifted up and uneven ground becoming level. It is nearly impossible to see the glory of the Lord being revealed and to hear the mouth of the Lord speaking today.
This week, I tried hard to listen. Like Mary, I pondered and wondered, as I listened to the stories around me, and what I discovered is that voices are still crying out and people are listening; valleys are being lifted up and uneven ground is becoming level and rough places a plain; the glory of the Lord is being revealed, and the word of the Lord is being heard.
“Black Lives Matter” is a refrain that has been sung in different songs throughout slavery, the Civil Rights movement and on streets of our country still today. The death of Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. In 2014, resulted in nationwide protests against what civil rights advocates say is law enforcement's tendency to be overly aggressive when dealing with black men. Black Lives Matter movement evolved from a social media hashtag into a national protest against police brutality. On Thursday, as I was writing my sermon, news reported a Judge sentenced white former South Carolina officer to 20 years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed black motorist.
Voices are crying out; people are listening. Uneven ground is becoming level. For nothing is impossible with God.
TIME magazine announced their Persons of the Year: Silence Breakers—the women who spoke up about the sexual harassment and abuse they have suffered and said, No more.
TIME reports: This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought. Megyn Kelly proposes: "What if we didn't whine, but we spoke our truth in our strongest voices and insisted that those around us did better? What if that worked to change reality right now?" Kelly acknowledges that this still feels more like a promise than a certainty. But for the moment, the world is listening. (Reporting by Charlotte Alter and Susanna Schrobsdorff/New York, Sam Lansky/Los Angeles, Kate Samuelson/London, Maya Rhodan/Washington and Katy Steinmetz/San Francisco)
Voices are crying out; people are listening. Rough places are becoming plain. For nothing is impossible with God.
On Tuesday night, local philanthropist Jack Connors had a Christmas party, to raise money for the Pittsburgh Fook Bank. The Mayernick Center was filled with people talking and laughing. Jack took the microphone to introduce me. But people continued to talk. I invited people to come to our church for Christmas services. People continued to talk and were not listening. I moved the microphone closer to my mouth and projected my words louder, but people continued to talk, overpowering my voice. I wanted to say, “Do you hear me now?” But, I knew they did not.
Over the noise, I introduced the bell choir, hoping that somehow their quiet sounds might be heard.
The bells started to play. People continued to talk. They were not listening.
The bells kept playing, and I could begin to hear the faint, yet familiar notes of “O Come all ye faithful.”
And then, something miraculous happened. People stopped talking. The room got quiet. So quiet, I could not hear anything at all, except for the simple beautiful sound of the bells playing. People were listening.
It wasn’t Jack’s booming voice about the food bank or my voice about our church that got people to listen. It was the simple soft sound of the bells, sounding the invitation, “O Come, all ye faithful”…listen.
Voices are crying out; people are listening. Valleys are being lifted up. For nothing is impossible with God.
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
The law of physics answers: A tree will always make a sound when it falls regardless of who is around to perceive it.
Theologically, we would say: whether or not one heard it, throughout history, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
From a manger in a stable, God speaks. From a cross and an empty grave, God speaks.
From a font of water and bread and wine, God speaks. From the Bible, God speaks.
Throughout time, God spoke words people most need to hear: words of justice and mercy, promise and possibility.
For nothing is impossible with God.
God is still speaking today… Are you listening?
The question God has for us is: Do you hear me now? Do you hear me now? Do you hear me now?