Although schools around the world go on Christmas break, school is in session for students of Jesus. The Christmas narratives are not merely traditional words; they are divinely inspired for our benefit. For example, the Christmas story provides a tutorial on how God speaks to his people.
In the opening of Matthew and Luke’s gospels, the God of the heavens pulls out all the stops on the heavenly pipe organ and announces his kind intention by nearly every means possible. If the subject is “how to hear God’s voice,” get out your highlighters and take note of the many ways he speaks. I count at least nine:
God speaks through angels: Angels spoke to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and the shepherds. Our very word angel comes from the Greek, ángelos, meaning messenger. While the birth of Jesus was certainly unique in history, God’s use of angels is anything but unique–they exist to carry his messages and do his work. Are you open to the possibility of angelic visitation today? (see Hebrews 13:2)
God speaks through dreams: God spoke to Joseph almost exclusively through dreams. What’s more, Joseph took these dreams seriously and made life-altering choices based on them. Would you marry a woman or move to a foreign country based on your dreams? Joseph did! In fact, we are in the habit of referring to “our dreams,” but what if they are God’s?
God speaks through nature: Three pagan wise men were among those who bowed in worship before the infant Jesus. They were literally moved to action because of what they observed in nature. Who would pack up their treasures and travel over deserts based on the sights in the sky? People who heard the voice of God, that’s who.
God speaks through Scripture: Matthew takes great care to point out the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in his nativity story. The stars may have guided the wise men to Israel, but the words of the prophet Micah gave them the final steps to take. Even Mary’s spontaneous song of praise in Luke chapter two is based on words recorded in the Old Testament nearly a thousand years before. In our day, many people study the Bible, but how many hear his voice in it?
God speaks through worship: When Zechariah encountered the angel Gabriel, he was fulfilling the office of priest by burning incense in the temple. That’s worship! So was the song sung by the “heavenly host” that night to the shepherds in the hillsides of Bethlehem. Included in the Christmas story is the revelation that worship is a two-way street: We offer praise and thanksgiving, and he speaks to us. When’s the last time you heard the voice of God in worship?
God speaks through governments: The opening words of Luke’s second chapter mention the decree by Caesar Augustus that all the world be taxed. Grumbling taxpayers everywhere did not hear anything other than the greed of Rome, but behind the mechanics of politics and taxation, God was moving people from one city to the next in order to set his plan in motion. So the next time you read about a new tax, be sure to listen for God’s voice!
God speaks through the Holy Spirit: Two “nobodies” named Simeon and Anna received a most unusual invitation to celebrate the birth of King Jesus–they had a hunch. Except in this case, it wasn’t actually a hunch; it was the voice of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s account makes clear that these two obscure temple-dwellers heard the still small voice of the Spirit, down to the time and place where the young parents of Jesus would come to the Temple to dedicate the baby Jesus. What if our lives–even specific days–could be guided like that? Scripture reveals they can.
God speaks through prophetic utterance: When Zechariah opened his mouth after nine months of silence, he prophesied! When Mary met Elizabeth, the courtyard of a simple house became the gathering of saints, and both women spoke the words of God. The Christmas narrative is telling us that when God is at work, God’s people will speak inspired words of life. That should change the way we listen to one another, don’t you think?
And still one more: God speaks through Jesus: The Christ Child is the Word become flesh. John’s prologue reveals the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The opening of the book of Hebrews reveals that although God speaks in many times and in many ways, his ultimate word to us is a person: Jesus. The angels told the shepherds, “This shall be a sign for you: you will find a baby…” All of God’s words are contained in him. They were then. They are still.
So while we endure well-meaning Christmas carols and relentless cheerful music in retail stores, the question remains: will you hear God speak?