Scripture: Luke 1:39-45
I do not remember my exact age at the time, but I remember being a child in the basement at Milan UMC for children’s church one Sunday. It was around this time of the year, and the teachers had decided for this particular Sunday we were going to sing Christmas Carols. We had just finished singing my requested song of We Three Kings, and the next song requested was “Jingle Bells”. I immediately responded “Hey! That’s not a Christmas song.”
Elementary school me, was both right and wrong about that. The song really has nothing at all to do with Christmas. However, years of tradition have paired the song with Christmas so even if the lyrics have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus or the celebration of the holiday it is still considered a Christmas song. There are a number of songs that are considered Christmas music that actually are not about Christmas. Like Jingle Bells a lot of these are winter themed songs such as Winter Wonderland and Let it Snow. There are some songs that I do not really understand how they got co-opted into the holiday season such as My Favorite Things from the sound of music. However, there is one Christmas song that actually has nothing to do with Christmas but most of us do not even realize it. That song is Do You Hear What I Hear?
If you quickly run through the lyrics it sounds like it fits this time of the year. It has a star, it has shepherds, and it has a baby shivering in the cold. However if the song was referring to the birth of Jesus it would be at best a very stylized and loose retelling that was taking a lot of liberties with the story found in the bible. Do You Hear What I Hear is a great and catch tune that sounds like it is kind of referring to the scripture but it does not quite fit. That is because the song was not originally written as a Christmas song. Despite having a hymn like structure, the song Do You Hear What I Hear was written in 1962. The song writer, Noel Regney, was known for a poetic, avant-garde style. The song was written during the height of the Cuban Missile crisis, and the song is a plea for peace during that time. Given the context some of the lines become chilling. Consider the verse: Said the night wind to the little lamb, Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky little lamb, Do you see what I see? A star, a star dancing in the night With a tail as big as a kite.
That is not a reference to the star of Bethlehem but it is about a nuclear missile. In the last verse the song does reference Jesus as the child who brings goodness and light. However, the song is not some artistic rendition of the Christmas story it is a plea for peace in the light of potential nuclear holocaust. This is not just me reading into the song, Regney, as explicitly stated this as well. It is a bit ironic that the song is called “Do You Hear what I Hear?” because most people when they listen to it do not actually hear what the song’s author intended them to hear. I think there is a faith lesson for us as well. I think sometimes God is asking us, “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?” Much like we miss the meaning of the song, we can miss the work and wonders of God all around us. This morning’s scripture from Luke gives a great example of how not to miss God at work.
From a practical stand point it makes sense that Mary left her small hometown of Nazareth and headed to visit her relatives. She was an unmarried, pregnant teenager in a small town. You just know the people would have been talking. It made a lot of sense to lay low someplace else for a while. The scripture states that Elizabeth lived in the Judean hill country. This would have been days of travel away from Nazareth. The relationship between Elizabeth and Mary is not clear. It is likely that Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin or Aunt. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth was herself six months pregnant. It is not uncommon in the sixth month of pregnancy for the baby to be kicking and moving quite a bit. So it is one hot take to feel the baby kick really hard and jump straight to “My relative is the mother of God.”
The scripture does give us a bit of a clue as to what is happening here. Verse 41 states “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Upon the greeting of Mary, the baby kicked as if to ask “Do you hear what I hear?” and thanks to the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth did indeed. So the Holy Spirit was involved, but still Elizabeth had to be in tune enough with the movements of God to not ignore the Spirit’s movement and understand what it all meant. Elizabeth was able to recognize Mary and the child that she was carrying for what they were because she was in a place where she could hear the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Like a lot of the people we meet in the Bible, we do not get a full snapshot of Elizabeth. We have to read between the lines to get a fuller picture of who Elizabeth is. From the gospel of Luke, other than a relation to Mary, we know Elizabeth was married to a man named Zechariah. Zechariah was a Levite, which means he spent part of the year serving at the temple. We also know that before the birth of John the Baptist, Elizabeth was childless. We do not know how old Elizabeth was, but Luke 1:36 references Elizabeth’s old age. It was likely she and Zechariah had been unable to conceive for quite some time. It needs to be mentioned in the culture of this time period, when a couple had difficulty conceiving it was always viewed as the woman’s fault. It was seen as a divine judgement against her and it would have been a source of great shame. I imagine for Elizabeth it felt deeply unfair as others began to have children but she could not. As the years went on, she could have gotten bitter and blamed God. Being childless was a mark of shame and hurt in the lives of Elizabeth and Zechariah, but all indication is despite that they remained faithful to God
The fact that Elizabeth was with child was a miracle. It was so unlikely that even Zechariah did not believe it was possible. In the gospel of Luke it is recorded that while Zechariah was at the temple serving the Angel Gabriel came to tell him that Elizabeth would conceive the boy who would grow to be John the Baptist. In response to this angelic message, Zechariah questions how this is even possible because of his and Elizabeth’s age. Elizabeth’s response was much different though in Luke 1:25 it is recorded, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Elizabeth had experienced the miraculous nature of God, she had experienced God’s favor. She knew God was willing and capable of doing good things. Elizabeth had experienced God’s favor so she was more attuned to what looks like. So on a fateful day when Mary came to visit and called out to greet her, the baby she was carrying leapt with joy. Elizabeth had ears to hear and eyes to see enough to know this was not just an ordinary kick. She was receptive to the possibility of God being at work in the world, and she was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit which brought her to the truth: The messiah was coming, God was moving, and soon it come to pass that God is with us. In light of God’s goodness, Elizabeth responded in the most appropriate way: with uncontainable joy!
Elizabeth did not miss what God was doing in the world. Thirty years before Peter would be the first disciple to declare Jesus was the Messiah, Elizabeth was already stating as such in this morning’s scripture. Her heart soul could loudly hear what God was communicating. She absolutely did not miss it. As we consider this morning’s scripture, there are a couple of pointers we can get from Elizabeth about how we can better hear and see the movements of God.
First, Elizabeth recognized God’s provision. Perhaps this might have been a little easier for her. She had spent years feeling like she was cursed, only to have God show that God had a special plan. Perhaps because Elizabeth had experienced God’s provision in her own life she was more likely to be looking to see where God is going to show up next. This is what allowed her to recognize that the kick was more than kick and it is why she was open to the Spirit’s leading to the revelation that Mary carried the Savior of the world. Perhaps because Elizabeth had experienced God’s provision in her own life she was more likely to be looking to see where God is going to show up next.
Our personal experiences with God providing for us may not be as dramatic as Elizabeth’s but we all have stories about God’s provision. One of the things I appreciate about our United Methodist tradition is that we believe God’s grace is previenent in our lives. This is a fancy way of saying that God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s provision is always present in our lives. We believe it does not matter how far someone is away from God, God’s love does not give up on them and God continues to provide. This means that when that unexpected blessing comes, that means when a series of seemingly coincidences aligns just so, that means when exactly what we need seems to fall right in our lap, it is God. It is not Karma, it is not fate, it is not the result of good vibes, or a reward for doing good work. The book of James states “Don’t be deceived my dear brothers and sisters, every good and perfect gift is from above.” God provides, and we are the proof. We could probably sit here all afternoons sharing stories of how God has answered prayers, how God worked in our lives, and how God gave us exactly what we needed when we needed it.
Because God has proven God’s self to us time and time again, then like Elizabeth we should be expecting and looking for what God is going to do next. When we are looking for God at work in the world, then we will find God at work because God is a loving God who provides out of God’s goodness. When we expect God to show up then like Elizabeth we will hear the leading of the Holy Spirit and we will be the ones asking those around us, do you hear what I hear?
It is probably a good idea for our spiritual health to consider just how God has provided for us. In this season of gift giving, may we take a few moments to list out all the ways that God has provided for you over the past year. I feel very confident we will be amazed when we do this. As we begin to consider the ways God was there for us we will likely become aware of God’s goodness and provision in ways we were not previously aware of. Being aware of God’s provision makes us more likely to hear, to see, and to notice just how truly good God is. When we become more aware of how God provides when we catch glimpses of God’s goodness, then our reaction should be similar to that of Elizabeth’s: She proclaimed in a loud voice a mixture of surprise and joy.
So May you have ears to hear and eyes to see how good our Great God is. May you know that God has and God will continue to provide for you. May you remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God. May that fill you with joy. May you be able to exclaim in a loud voice, God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.