I have a friend who is the best gift-giver. Whether it’s Christmas, a birthday, or a significant life event, he always finds a way to give the perfect gift. He is able to do this because he’s constantly watching & listening to the people in his life. Months ago, he heard me talk about how much I loved my almost 20 year old backpack. It was beat up with tears & stains from many trips over the years. I told my friend that I needed a new one, but wasn’t excited about parting with the old one. I didn’t think he was listening that closely; but guess what came in the mail a couple of days before Christmas? You betcha – a new backpack almost identical to the old one. My friend shows his love, not simply by the gifts, but by the way he listens intently for months to find the best way to show that he is paying attention. I’m looking forward to breaking in this new backpack; and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for such an amazing friend.
Weeks ago, I was meeting a colleague for a drink when I ran into some neighborhood buddies. I’m not super close to these guys, but it was good to see them after many weeks away on trips. We were making small talk when I heard one of the guys say: “you know, I woke up this morning feeling pretty low, kinda depressed – but I’m feeling really good right now. I almost didn’t leave the house today, but I’m glad I did.” I’m not sure if my buddy knew it, but he got my attention with those words. So much so, that later that night I was still thinking about what he said. I wondered what detail brightened his mood? Was it the company? The small conversation? The drinks? I also wondered if the feeling would last – if he would continue to move from hopelessness to hopeful? I prayed for my buddy; that it would not be just a one-time pick me up. And I thought about how I might get to know him better. Whether this guy knew it or not, I was listening to him and his words mattered. They still do.
I’ve been religiously celebrating Christmas my entire life. I know the story well. I can recite it almost verbatim in the King James Version. This time of year, words from the original Christmas narrative can be heard almost everywhere. Even my non-believing friends have respect for the story about a special child born in low estate that calls the whole world to attention. But I have to admit, I almost lost some of the wonder and awe I once had at this time of year. Maybe it is the commercialization of the holiday, the price of real Christmas trees (whose getting rich off those firs?), or the fact that I can’t get Mariah Carey’s song out of my head. Christmas was losing it’s magical quality and I was thinking I might just sleep through it.
Then it dawned on me, the birth of Jesus is God’s way of saying: “I’m listening.” For some of you reading this, that’s a lot to believe. But the simple faith of Jesus-people is this: from the beginning of human history, God has been listening to the cries, hopes, needs & desires of all people. And at one special moment in history, God responded to all of that listening by sending Jesus – God in the flesh. Somehow, the birth of Jesus is the answer to every question ever asked, every need ever voiced, and every hope ever felt – before and after his birth. It’s a mystery; an irresistible climax that has become a miraculous new beginning for those who dare to take it seriously. I woke up on Christmas morning with these words ringing in my head: God listens; Jesus is how I know it.
To my non-believing friends reading this post: thanks for your friendship. As you celebrate the holiday, hopefully surrounded by people who love you, I want you to know that I’m doing my best to listen to you. I’m not always good at it, and I often don’t express it; but I am listening to you and your words matter to me. And on a day like today, it seems right to say that I’m listening to you because I believe God has listened (and continues to listen) to me. If you ever want to hear more about that, don’t hesitate to ask.
And to my friends and family in the faith – I hope that your celebration of Jesus’ birth has been meaningful. Let us not forget that all we’ve ever needed has been provided for us through God’s gift found in a manger. We’ve been heard by the God of all things. So maybe the greatest gift we could give in return for such amazing grace is the gift of listening – particularly to those who feel that heaven is deaf to their cries. Let’s not make Christmas about us – let’s celebrate by being the hands and feet and ears of the One who loves us.
To all of you — I pray that you would have an incredible Christmas Day. May we all learn to listen to one another better as we finish out this year. All love and the happiest Christmas to you!