by Rev. Terry Forke
The wind whistled sharply out of the southwest. It had been a cool evening, and this wind set the young woman’s nerves on edge. Or maybe it wasn’t the wind at all. More likely, it was the crying. There had been a lot of commotion in the neighbor’s stable last night, strange lights, muffled voices, and then the crying. A baby’s cry had pierced the darkness of her room.
Photo by shutterstock
It was a plaintive, powerful cry for one so young, almost as if he were struggling for his voice to be heard above the noise of his birth. She had been up early and discovered that a young couple had settled in the stable for the evening because the town had been so full.
“I suppose it was the best they could find,” she thought. “And none of my concern. But why can’t she keep the child quiet? It must be her first-born.”
The woman had plenty of her own work. She was too busy to bother with the nighttime distraction further. Because of the tax enrollment, she had many relatives staying with her, and they required a lot of attention.
Yet, the voice of that child . . .
“It’s a baby!” Her son burst through the door, his face aglow.
“A baby?” she replied. “Yes, I know. I have ears.”
“But this baby is different somehow!” He had been peeking in the stable door. “He is different than any other baby I have ever seen.”
“He is different, all right,” the woman answered curtly. “He makes a lot of noise about his birth. Now, get to your chores.” With that, she turned to her work and put the voice of the child out of her mind.
Some 20 centuries later, many people think little more of Christmas than that, a lot of noise about the birth of a child. It does get noisy in the weeks before Christmas. Much of the noise is static. It is frayed, unfocused noise that muffles the voice of Jesus. When does Wal-Mart cue up the Christmas carols, right after Halloween? The Salvation Army bell is clanging. Clerks are wishing us a politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Children are chattering about this year’s sensational toy. Hollywood is barking over its year-end offerings. The family is arguing about where Christmas dinner will be consumed. And Wall Street is whining that we haven’t spent enough this season. Amazingly, we are rarely cognizant of this noise. It is all in the background. We live with it, without taking stock of its spiritual toll.
There are other, less subtle, sources of noise. A few voices pipe up during Advent that directly compete with the voice of Jesus. Take, for example, well-worn Christmas card clichés: “During this season of peace, may quiet joys fill your heart.” We are all for peace and quiet joys, but notice how the voice has been changed. It is no longer the voice of a Savior calling us to exclusive faith in Him. The world has turned the message of Christmas into something to which it can listen. Everyone desires peace in the world and in their lives. In this context, the message of “peace” directly opposes the voice of Jesus.
Santa’s voice is jolly. He beckons us to experience the joy of giving. He speaks of laughter, of tradition, of suspense and of good little boys and girls. All these things are fun, but they are not the Savior of the world. Santa’s voice is very loud. He is not just another voice. He is the voice of Christmas for the majority of listeners. The world can salve its Christmas conscience by listening to him instead of Jesus. The Savior comes to speak to us, but we readily change the channel and listen to someone else.
The season of Advent is just around the corner. You know the Christmas clamor will soon begin to rise in your ears. Do you run away? Do you put your head under a pillow and not come out until after Christmas? Do you forswear all traditions and strip Christmas down to the bare minimum? These are Advent questions, rarely asked.
The word advent is instructive. It means “coming.” God Himself is coming. Jesus is coming. The Word of God is coming. He comes with a message of Good News.
The coming of such a message anticipates preparation on our part. This is how we usually think of Advent, as a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Care must be taken, however, so that this preparation does not drown the voice of Jesus as we try to find things to do to make Christmas more Christmassy.
The voice of Jesus was first heard as the cry of a little baby. Later, His Father revealed Jesus to the disciples at His transfiguration with these words, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” Despite the contrary voices, Jesus will not be silent. He didn’t stay in the stable. His message became more articulate than the cries of a newborn. He grew up on a cross. In His death and resurrection, we most clearly hear the message of Jesus. All the other voices of the world cannot save us. He does save us by taking our sin and giving us His righteousness. His is a unique voice. There is no other message like this: “Through faith in Me you are forgiven, and you have life with God forever.”
Perhaps it would be good to think of Advent less as a season of preparation and more as a season of passivity, of receiving, of listening. God is the speaker. We are the listeners. We hear what God has to say to us through the Word and the Sacraments. The tradition of adding a midweek service during the season of Advent makes sense then. It is not just another obligation, more noise. It is an opportunity to listen to Him.
Of course, no one knows how much noise the newborn baby Jesus actually made. We do know that when the Word became flesh, He came to speak Good News of forgiveness in His name. During the season of Advent we prepare for His coming as we listen to Him.