Season of Listening

A Season of Listening

Christmas is the season of listening. We gather around the story of Luke 2, as it’s read aloud. We hang sleigh bells on our Christmas trees and on our door knobs and enjoy the nostalgia for days when holiday traffic was all “over the river and through the woods.” Carols ring out in the most unlikely places and carolers freeze their fingers and noses to spread the joy of music to their neighbors. Brass quartets suddenly play to packed halls, and Salvation Army bell ringers lighten our hearts with a reminder to share.

Even those who totally miss the point of Christmas listen ardently to a genre of music unique to the season and fine tune their ears to the glad tidings of dramatic price reductions and the great joy of “no interest ’til next year!”

But then, there’s the carol that, on the down beat, demands a listening ear:

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

 

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is deeply theological and yet joyfully singable, which is no surprise, coming as it does from a collaboration between theologian Charles Wesley and composer Felix Mendelssohn. (According to Wikipedia, George Whitefield even had a hand in it!)

The message of the carol offers a theological basis for a unique Christmas listening, particularly in reference to the carol itself, for how ironic is it for us to sing all four verses of a song beginning with “Hark!” and then to zone out on the words as they come effortlessly to mind?

When the familiarity of the words stands like a giant barrier between your heart and the truth, it’s time to slow down for a deeper pondering of Christmas. After all, this is no small event. Because of the newborn King, a giant rift in the universe has been healed.

Have You Noticed?

Wesley refers to Jesus using 11 different names in the four verses of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Each one is theologically dense and rich in promise:

  1. Newborn King,
  2. Christ,
  3. Everlasting Lord,
  4. Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb,
  5. Incarnate Deity,
  6. The Godhead Veiled in Flesh,
  7. Emmanuel,
  8. Prince of Peace,
  9. Sun of Righteousness,
  10. Desire of Nations, and
  11. Second Adam.

Any one of these names has enough embedded truth to warm a cold December heart.

We love to sing about “peace on earth and mercy mild” at Christmas time, and the angel’s message urges us to pay attention to the source of true peace and reconciliation. We are invited to “rise” and to “join the triumph of the skies” that teemed with worship on that dark hillside so long ago. The carol borrows words from Hebrews 1 to remind us that we are in “the last days” ushered in by Jesus’ arrival “late in time.”

The incarnation is a durable truth that yields richness even on a rainy Thursday in August, but at Christmas time, we’re invited to dwell in its enormity, and I’m thankful that when God revealed Himself to humanity, He did not say, “Here I am! Find a way to come to Me!” Instead, he “lay His glory by” and “raise[d] the sons of earth.” He said, “I’ll come to you, and I will raise you. I will take you with Me”

The season of listening is also a season for new beginnings, not because of ritual New Year’s resolutions that follow on its heels, but because of “the woman’s conquering seed.” The safe delivery of a warm and swaddled newborn triggered a chain reaction of spiritual warfare. It began in the slaughter of infants with Herod’s bloody and paranoid sword, which was parried by an angelic warning and a flight to Egypt. Later, a test of wits in the wilderness was countered by Words of Truth that exalted Living Bread. Then, at “an opportune time,” a wooden cross and a grisly death ushered in the crushing power of resurrection to “bruise in us the serpent’s head.”

Listening for Christmas truth sheds glory everywhere. When my son’s jazz band plays Feliz Navidad, I pray for our post-Babel world. As I tap my foot to its non-traditional rhythms on the floor of a drafty New England church, I remember that the Yin of my cold and snowy Christmas has a Yang of 90-degrees-and-Christmas-at-the-beach for those who live south of the equator. The effects of the angel’s message are world-wide; the invitation is to “all nations.”

It is my hope that you are among the listeners this Christmas, that your ears are tuned to the whisper of truth amidst the noise of holiday hoopla, and that Jesus is making His “humble home” in your heart. Because of His coming, you can know God personally.

Blessings to you as you rejoice in the “light and life” He brings.

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Thank you to my friend Abby from Little Birdie Blessings for the uniquely crafted image, complete with musical angels.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

65 thoughts on “A Season of Listening”

  1. Wow! This is beautifully written and certainly gives one a lot to ponder. All this from one hymn. Wesley was surely inspired by God when he wrote this. I truly believe you are inspired by God as well Michelle. God has gifted you with the ability to write well. Thank you for listening. It was my privilege to make a graphic to go with your post today. ~ Abby

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased with that sweet picture, Abby. It’s perfect. And thank you for speaking words of hope over my writing. You are truly an encouragement — and an inspiration to boldly press on!

      Like

  2. Beautiful words, as always. It is all too easy to go through this season barely hearing the words to the melodies blasting from every station, but to actually slow down and listen. That is source of the true blessing! Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What got me started on this post was the phrase “late in time behold Him come.”
      “Wha’?” He’s not late — Jesus came in the fullness of time, but of course, a tiny bit of digging showed me that Wesley was referring to the last days from Hebrews 1, etc. So often we sing without listening.
      Thanks for reading, Liz, and for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the gentle reminder to be still and listen this Christmas. I think it is so important, and it sure takes some effort to make it happen, but it is so worth it. To just come aside with Jesus and listen for His still, small whisper right in the midst of such noisy chaos in our consumerism-driven world…it takes us back to that precious, holy night and the quietness of that scene. Thank you, Michele, for this post, and may God bless you and your family this beautiful Christmas season!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for breaking this wonderful carol down for us, Michele. It’s one of my faves, too. I’m big on listening to the words of the songs I sing, too. It can be easy to sing from memory, if we’re not careful, can’t it? (Done that more than once, myself.) This is so lovely. Thank you for sharing it. Hope you and your family are having a most blessed Christmas season, giving glory to the newborn King. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Had to smile at the irony of mindlessly singing ‘hark’😄Just wanting you to know I am reading here though not saying much… My hands are happily busy with Nanaimo bars (do you have them there?), shortbread, chocolate sandwich cookies with mint filling, biscotti…and a few homemade ornaments now ready to mail…But I am guarding my heart from too much busyness in order to spend time listening to the Word. Thx for your good words here and a very merry Christmas season to you and yours Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is ironic, and I’m glad that came through.
      And no, I don’t know about Nanaimo bars, but wow, they sound really dangerous. I just got the chocolate and peanut butter off my hands a few minutes ago. Boy #3 surprised us by coming home a day early from college. I think all my “making” is nearly done for the season. I’m enjoying listening to John Piper’s daily Advent devotional, and lots of Christmas music. (We found a great YouTube of The Kings Choir singing Christmas music just recently.) Joy and peace to you and yours as you celebrate Jesus’ birthday!

      Like

  6. For those who “tune their ears to the glad tidings of dramatic price reductions and the great joy of “no interest ’til next year!” had me laughing out loud. I love this reminder to listen for the whispers of truth, Michele. Wishing you and yours sweet Christmas blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to give you a reason to smile, Crystal. I had so much fun writing this piece, and the point of it — paying attention to the message of Christmas — is something I need to work on every year. Thanks for reading, and blessings to you and Tim (and Minnie) as you celebrate together.

      Like

  7. Thanks for bringing out the magnificent truths of this song! It’s too easy to sing the familiar on autopilot. I think – I hope – the point you mentioned about “Hark!” being the first word will be a reminder to me to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many different cultures celebrate Christmas. I love that it’s a world wide observance, and want to remember that God had the whole world in mind when He “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”

      Like

  8. Michele,
    My recent Biblical model (and I like putting it in the KJV is “Shutteth thy lips”. I know I do far too much yammering and not enough listening. I have learned that arguments are best resolved when I listen more and speak less. Wounds are mended by speaking less. Being a help to someone grieving, struggling, or despairing is often through listening and not through talking. If we would just ‘Hark” more and listen to what the angels, God, and others have to say, we are ultimately far better off. Great post!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How funny that “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” played on the Christmas station as I began reading. I love that God rambunctiously shares His Word with all who have open ears and spirits. My spirit soared last Saturday with hundreds of others as we lifted our voices at our son’s alma mater where we participated in Lessons and Carols. As we sang his arrangements of this and four other carols, the Spirit of the Lord filled that holy place. How beautiful to praise His name and the One sent to seek and save! Christmas blessings, Michele, to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Rambunctiously”
      Oh, what a great word for the working of God.
      And we always listen to the Lessons and Carols on BBC during the day of Christmas Eve. I can’t imagine how wonderful it must have been to participate in it!
      Merry Christmas, Alice. So good to hear from you!

      Like

  10. I love this post and the list of names for Jesus used within the song…especially the Hope of Nations. That title fills me with hope! Coming to you from Salt and Light! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This was wonderful! Wow! How many times I have done just as you said and sang out “Hark” and then sang the rest without truly listening to the words! I also pray that for the rest of this Christmas season, I will listen. Listen for God’s words and the joy that comes this time of year. It is a strange Christmas season for us this year. We are building a house and living in a camper, so there is no tree and no decorations. No where to put wrapped presents. It feels strange. I am not feeling very Christmas-y right now. But maybe that means for me this year, I need to focus a little more on God. Finding that Christmas joy in Him.

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re going caroling tonight, so I’m looking forward to the great theology lesson I’m going to get along with the blessing of sharing music with the people in the neighborhood around our church!
      What a challenge to be displaced during this busy time. Once you’re in your new home, you’ll remember this days, and probably grin.
      Blessings to you, Amy!

      Like

  12. I love this post! For the past 10 or so years, I’ve made a conscious effort to really listen to the words of our Christmas hymns. There’s so much truth and wisdom to be found! Thank you for pointing out one of my favorites today & thankful for our Everlasting Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. When I was eight or so, my mom and I took piano lessons together and this was one of the very first songs I remember learning. I practiced from September to December to get it right…our house was always “Hark”-ing. And then I played it for my first recital and only when I heard it in the ceremony of that place did I HEAR it and let the words sink in. I will always love that song. (And I wish I could still play piano).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow Michele I love this, and I’ve never thought about this being a season of listening, but it’s so true. I’m loving all the music at church and my Christmas CDs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every year I ask myself, “Why don’t I listen to music all year long?”
      I love the carols and traditional songs, and I know they encourage me and bring great joy. I hope this year I can continue in listening to music more of the time. Those positive messages stick with me when they come on a melody!

      Like

    1. Thanks, Joanne! I’ve loved teaching this carol to my Sunday School people, and it’s heightening my awareness of the words of other music as well. So much music – such a short and fast-moving season!

      Like

  15. This is just beautiful, Michele. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has been going through my mind this Christmas season too. I love the theology, but I never stopped to count all the names of Jesus in this one familiar carol. I love it! I’m thankful for you and your words, my friend … now and all through the year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved it too, Char. I’ve gotten in the habit of “counting” and “noticing” from my Bible studies this year, so when I was intrigued by one of the names that was unclear to me, it occurred to me that there were plenty others (especially Second Adam!) that are just not in common usage. That got the ball rolling!
      Merry Christmas to you and may you experience joy and fulfillment because of all the many facets of Jesus’ identity and ministry to us!

      Like

  16. Oh, Michele, Yes! Yes!! I love this closer look at one of my favorite Christmas hymns. Wesley’s hymns are some of my favorites throughout the year, but this one really strikes a chord, doesn’t it? (Oh, that was a bad pun. Forgive me!)

    Lord, we pray that you will give us ears to hear.

    Thank you so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I really tried to listen this Christmas, didn’t allow all the noise to move me. I find that the society tries very hard to take Jesus Christ away from the heart Christmas. All i’ll say is thank you for allowing God to use you in his vineyard.

    Like

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