Tuesday 30 November 2021

The Power of Listening

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of Peace

—Luke 1:78-79

The gospel of Luke begins in a very intriguing way. The angel Gabriel appears to the priest Zechariah in the sanctuary of the temple and tells him that his elderly wife Elizabeth, thought to be barren, will conceive and bear a son whom he must name John. When Zechariah questions the possibility of such a miracle, he is struck dumb, and Gabriel tells him that his tongue will only be loosened once these things have come to pass.

At this point, two women, Elizabeth and Mary, take centre stage. (Perhaps it is no coincidence that the voices of these two women emerge only after a man’s voice has been silenced?) Both women find themselves miraculously pregnant, and we are told the children they carry, John and Jesus, bear a people’s hopes for a redeemed future. One will prepare the way and help make people’s hearts ready to receive the other’s message of salvation through forgiveness (vs. 76-77). When Mary visits Elizabeth and Zechariah, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, and Mary then gives her song of praise to a God of mercy who will lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things (vs. 52-53).

As a man reading this story, I have become very interested in the song Zechariah later gives once he is finally able to speak again. What will he say after long months of silent listening? I wonder if, during his time of silence, he heard Mary’s song and pondered her words in his heart—the same way Mary would later treasure the message that the shepherds brought to her after she had given birth to Jesus (Luke 2:19)? I like to think his song displays the wisdom that comes from such listening and shows how his heart has thereby been opened to the God of mercy that Mary first proclaimed.

I have spoken before in this space about Advent as a time of active waiting and expecting, and I think that listening, pondering, and treasuring are great words to describe such a spiritual posture. So much harm comes by way of our failure to listen, and so much healing, blessing and joy comes by way of tarrying with others long enough to truly hear what they are saying to us—sometimes without words and always long after our premature assumption to know what they must be saying. At this point, something real and important finally dawns on us, like the “dawn from on high” Zechariah proclaims—the Messiah who gives light to our darkness and guides our feet into the way of peace.

This Advent, I am challenging myself to listen, really listen. Where is the voice proclaiming the way of our Messiah’s shalom? Is it coming from a place I might not expect? Do I have the ears to hear it?

Friends, I wish you a blessed Christmas as you ponder God’s way of justice, mercy, and peace, and as you strive to listen to all the various voices that might guide us into it.


Ron Kuipers