25th December 2010 - "Listen"
Stephen Fielding - St Peter's, Tewin, All Saints', Datchworth and Ayot St Peter
Somebody said to me in the week, ‘It wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't come to church’. And it got me thinking. Why do we come? Is it the carols? Or the Christmas story? Or a new born baby? Or the nativity play from your childhood when you were Joseph or the donkey or Mary or a shepherd – or you weren’t what you wanted to be? Perhaps you can tell me a bit later, on your way out, why you come to church at Christmas. I'd love to tell hear.
As we listen to the Christmas story, we observe that many of the people in that story had to use their ears. They had to listen. Take Mary. Remember the angel coming to her with words that must have been quite difficult to understand. Listen Mary you are going to have a very special son, who will be a messiah, a saviour. Or Joseph puzzled and frankly probably quite annoyed to have a pregnant fiancée. Listen, says the angel to him; Mary is going to have a child and it’s God’s doing. Or the shepherds to whom a message comes. Or the kings. Even Herod with his sly and brutal cynicism asks the magi to ‘bring me word again’. For all these people there was a word that came to them, a word they needed to attend to, a word that would change them.
What does the gospel writer John say? He says that Jesus is the word of God. He is, as it were, the utterance of God. And the writer to the Hebrews tells how in the past they listened to the prophets - men who spoke the word of God into their situations - but now God has spoken to us through his son. Both bible writers are saying that Jesus is God’s word to us. Listen to him!
The person who is sitting next to you is utterly different from you. Oh I don't doubt that you have things in common with them - you may belong to the same family, or speak the same language - but we are all very different from each other. We hear things differently and we see things differently, and how we listen to the Word of God today will vary from person to person. Someone asked the great mother Theresa what she said to God when she prayed. ‘I don't say anything’, was her reply, ‘I just listen’. ‘And when you listen’, the interviewer went on, ‘what does God say?’ ‘He just listens’.
If you don't find that meaningless, I hope that you will see in it something very deep indeed about listening. Which is that it is about… listening! It’s about the importance of listening to one another. I don't know whether this impresses you as much as it impresses me but one of the most encouraging things that can happen to any human being is to be truly listened to. It's really the highest compliment that we can pay anybody - to give them our full and undivided attention. You will be able to think of people who have given you their full and undivided attention. How did it make you feel? How does it make you feel? I agree. So who will I listen to fully and unreservedly this Christmas? To whom will I give my full and undivided attention? Just think of one person you could make some space for – to listen to what they've got to say. I reckon that there could be the repair of some relationships this Christmas, just as much as there could be the enhancement of existing ones if we just take some time to listen fully attentively and without judgement.
There is one more thing I want to add…. beyond asking that you should listen to Jesus and listen to each other with special attention this Christmas. It is that just as you have come here, so God has come to us in his son Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. He does not stand aloof, he is very near to you, he's our father and we are his children, and he loves us and cares for us with the whole of his very large heart.