Note from Mary: Enjoy this guest post from my husband, Dave:
“Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy ‘Do you hear what I hear?’”
Those are famous lyrics from the second stanza of one of my favorite Christmas carols, talking about spreading the good news of the birth of Jesus. It’s an important reminder during this busy season that there is a greater message to be shared -- a message for everyone from the lowly shepherd boy to the mighty king.
In the song, the central message that “Christ the Savior is born” is communicated in different ways by different messengers. The wind talks about seeing the star, the lamb talks about hearing the angel’s song, the shepherd boy talks about the child in the cold, and the king says that the child will be a beacon of light and goodness to the world. Each message points to the same truth -- the good news of the birth of Jesus -- but each is spoken in a different way.
I wonder if we can learn from this. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time where we’ve had to communicate the same message to multiple people. What happens? Sometimes we may say the exact same thing multiple times, and each person will react and process it differently. Or, we may filter the message based on who we are talking to, either through our tone of voice or the parts we emphasize. We do this because we know that each person has a unique background of experiences, and those affect how they process and respond to information. The reality is, when I ask my neighbor “Do you hear what I hear?” the answer may very well be “No. I hear something completely different.”
Two and a half years of marriage have shown me just how true this is. My wife Mary has a background that in some ways is very different from mine. Because of that, she sees and interprets things differently; sometimes this has led to conflicts, but mostly it has led to improved understanding, appreciation, and empathy for each other.
But therein lies the tough job of communicating a complex truth to many people, such as what pastors must do when they preach the gospel of Jesus. People will hear the same sermon differently. Part of that is the power of the Holy Spirit, and part of it is based in our own unique life circumstances. A message that centers on the filthiness of our sin and the need for repentance could be a needed wake up call for someone living a selfish lifestyle, but could be devastating to someone who struggles with depression and often sees themselves as worthless. Those who struggle with depression may need some clarification or emphasis placed on the love of Christ through the cross and their inherent value as God’s creation in order to embrace the gospel as good news.
If you know me, you know I’m not always a clear communicator when I’m put on the spot. My mishaps have allowed me to experience firsthand the consequences and the hurt that misunderstanding can bring. So I believe it’s important, whenever possible, to choose words that are sensitive to those who might receive them. We don’t compromise the truth, but we choose to present it in a way so that the people who hear it will understand and (by the Holy Spirit’s power) embrace it. To me this is similar to Paul’s thinking in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where he explains his willingness to engage people differently depending on their context and the culture.
As I reflect on all this, I look back to that Christmas song and wonder if the mighty king’s reaction would have been any different had the shepherd boy first described Jesus as the coming and conquering King of Kings, rather than the humble Savior shivering in a manger. Same truth and message, different emphases. Do you hear what I hear?