We moderns, wherever we are located in this global village, are intuitively oiled by the social media machine. An undesirable result of this is the tendency to speak at each other rather than to each other. Internet emojis have trained us to shortcut genuine emotions. We find direct eye contact uncomfortable and generally avoid the awkwardness of real human interaction. After all, we can easily scroll past people and conversations. We are less attentive than perhaps ever before. But the Christmas story provides us with a challenge regarding how we listen.
Jesus was Attentive
I doubt he was referring to our wired age, but theologian Eugene Peterson once quipped, “We need not ask ourselves how many people we have talked to about Christ but rather, listened to in Christ.” Perhaps he had seen it in the New Testament epistle to the Philippians. For Paul talks about Jesus not considering equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6). There is much application for the Christian life in Paul’s teaching. One of them, perhaps underdeveloped, is Christ’s empathy. As he enters our world, Christ lowers himself and identifies with humanity. And he listened.
Jesus is undoubtedly the best listener we can ever have. So celebrating his incarnation means we have an opportunity to imitate one of his greatest traits
In fact, the Son of God, continues to “empathise with our weakness” (Hebrews 4:15) and “lives to intercede for us” (Hebrews 7:15) Therefore, he’s undoubtedly the best listener we can ever have. So celebrating his incarnation means we have an opportunity to imitate one of his greatest traits. This is especially the case as we entertain his birthday guests over Christmas.
Listening to the Sheep
When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion. For they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). When he asked questions, he listened to the answers. God knew what was in man (John 2:25). Yet he didn’t interrupt as some random woman in the crowd hailed the breasts that nursed him (Luke 11:27). Though he did later correct her (Luke 11:28). He didn’t interrupt when his authority was questioned by the Jewish leaders (Matthew 21: 23-31). So it was on many other occasions, including the cross, as they challenged him to coordinate his own rescue (Matthew 27:43).
Are we confident enough in our faith and the unseen eternal realities to listen well?
But are we confident enough in our faith and the unseen eternal realities to listen well? Do we genuinely consider the cares and questions of those around us? This is hard at the easiest of times and perhaps most difficult at Christmas, one of the most hurried seasons of the year. But as we remember Christ’s example, his patient love and personal affection for people, surely we must strive to do better as we follow after him. We too need to be attentive.
Christmas is an Opportunity to Share our Faith
Christmas offers an excellent gospel-bridge to our extended family members, who are battered by the world all year long. Car conversations with the family, as we head to the village, are opportunities to listen well, and “give reason for the hope we have” (1 Peter 3:15). But our increasingly digital and online world has many of us behaving as fools. For we are quick with answers before listening, if at all. The Old Testament called a man who “gives an answer before listening…a fool in his shame” (Proverbs 18:13). This is a grave indictment on people tempted by verbosity and lacking empathy.
May our homes not be tempted to turn up the volume more than we turn the other ear
But Don’t Forget to Listen!
Seasons like Christmas only heighten our communicative and relational brokenness. As the festivities of the season take centre stage, the grace to listen disappears. In our zeal to pronounce, we bury the reason for the season under our avalanche of words. And while we might pour out truth, the bitterness of life’s hardships and the feeling of being schooled rob that truth of its weight.
As our distant cousins and aunties dust their shoes at our ancestral home tomorrow, wearied by divorce, abuse, family burdens, and vocational struggles, may our homes not be tempted to turn up the volume more than we turn the other ear. Let us sit on the couch and ask. Then listen.
This culture or attitude of empathy ought to be more than music and meals
Following Christ’s Example
The testimony of Scripture is clear and convincing: there are few things more unloving than caring to be heard more than caring to listen. The past year will have given your Christmas guests lots of burdens. Inviting them to church is only part of the solution; something profound can be demonstrated at your dining table. This culture or attitude of empathy ought to be more than music and meals. The readiness to be attentive may be the greatest gift you can give. And the Christmas season’s centre, Jesus Christ, has modelled this for us.
We must be convinced by the testimony of Scripture that there are few things more unloving than caring to be heard more than caring to listen
In our often feast-focused, oral African culture, believers in Christ find themselves with the greatest privilege of being attentive when no one else is. Like Eugene Peterson reminds us, perhaps that’s the highest testimony of our Christian witness—maybe more so on Christmas day. To paraphrase Michael Gorman, ‘To be in Christ is to be a living exegesis of Christ’s narrative, a new performance of the original drama of humiliation, before exaltation, the voluntary renunciation of rights and selfish gain in order to serve and obey.’