“Do you hear what I hear?” Many will recognize this question as the title of the familiar Christmas carol written in 1962 by Noël Regney. The carol recounts how a lamb, a shepherd, a mighty king and, eventually, people everywhere all heard an important message—the revelation of the promised Messiah’s birth.
In recent days, I have been paying closer attention to the sounds around me. No, not the traffic in the streets, not the howling wind blowing from the frigid North Atlantic and not the airplane flying overhead as I write these words.
Instead, I am listening to the sounds of the voices around me, the Salvationists and volunteers engaged in yet another busy Advent season, the emotional pleas of individuals looking for assistance and the strained comments of my colleagues and friends still trying to figure out what another “pandemic Christmas” will look like.
As I listen, I hear comments like “I’m so tired” or “I need more help!” and the equally concerning “I don’t know what else to do!” and “Are we even making a difference?” Often, I have wondered, Do they hear what I hear?
Over the past several years, we have all been affected by rigid partisan politics, the impact of racism, and a global pandemic that forced a physical separation from some of our closest relationships and supports. Many people have been left longing for a voice of encouragement and an acknowledgment that their efforts really do matter.
Consider the following.
I have accompanied a group of brass band members as they played on the back deck of an elderly woman’s home. All the instrumentalists were tired from kettle shifts and other Christmas activities, on top of their own personal work and family commitments. As they finished their playing and wished a “Merry Christmas” through the open door, only I was close enough to hear the elderly woman say, “They just made my Christmas!”
Do those band members hear what I hear?
Not that long ago, I stood next to a Salvation Army officer after a worship service that she had planned. As people exited the building, a church member had taken my colleague aside and offered a harsh criticism about one minor detail of the service. Her facial expression clearly communicated how hurt she was by the interaction. At the same time, many others were sharing with me just how much they enjoyed the service and complimented my colleague on a job well done.
Does my colleague hear what I hear?
During a conversation with a single father of three, he shared with me how he often felt like a failure because he had to rely on the generosity of others just to pay his bills and put food on the table for his family. That same afternoon, I spoke with his eldest child, who referred to his dad as his “hero.” When I asked the son what impressed him most about his father, he responded with, “He’s the hardest-working man I know and, despite our challenges, I know that he’ll do whatever it takes to provide for us.”
Does the dad hear what I hear?
Noël Regney concludes his carol by suggesting that the child who has entered the world comes with a magnificent offering: “He will bring us goodness and light.” Indeed, the gift of Jesus has been the source of all good and has illuminated the darkness of our world for so many.
Yet, if we listen closely to the voices around us, we will quickly be reminded that the darkness that accompanies fatigue, criticism, self-doubt and other frustrations is still very much evident in this world, and many people are still in need of the hope offered through the gift of God incarnate.
We are invited to respond to their cries with the encouraging words of his goodness and light, so that we, too, can play a part in illuminating the darkness.
Like many others, I enjoy the events of Christmas. I love the sights, the smells, the traditions and yes, even the busyness of the season has a certain appeal. But this year, I’m also paying attention to the sounds around me, and the people in need of an encouraging word. May I be quick to offer what they need to hear.
Do you hear what I hear?
Captain Sheldon Bungay is the corps officer at St. John’s Temple, N.L.
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Thank you for your careful listening. Beautifully shared in your article. Reminds us both to speak and to listen for encouragement.