Every winter, my family and I pile into our old Chevy Suburban and trek from Virginia to the snow-covered mountains of Vermont. We have been going on a family ski trip every December as long as I can remember, so at this point, it’s hard for me to imagine a Christmas without snow.
There’s something beautiful and ever peaceful about the frost of winter. It’s as if the world has — if only for a fleeting moment — fallen into a deep slumber, like the planet and all its life has paused to reflect on the year we will soon leave behind, with all its blessings and challenges, its struggles and triumphs.
The calmness of winter and the tranquility of snow creates an atmosphere for listening. The final month of each year, with its colder climate, grants us the chance to really hear, if only we pause along with the world around us.
Novelist Ernest Hemingway said he likes to listen. “When people talk, listen completely,” he once reflected. “Most people never listen.”
In a fast-paced culture where listening seems in some ways to be obsolete, we should take Hemingway’s words into consideration. Listening, after all, is foundational to the Christian faith. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah — the first five books of the Bible — was passed from generation to generation orally. Without the memorization of Scripture in Israelite culture, we might not have such a rich collection of biblical text today.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Jewish people were charged with the command to hear, to remember, and to listen. Jesus was, of course, aware of that, so it’s no wonder he answered the way he did when one of the teachers of religious law, scribes who studied Scripture, asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“Listen, O Israel!” Jesus replied, echoing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, an Old Testament passage that would resonate with the scribe. “The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:28-30).
As a man raised in the Jewish tradition, Jesus knew the power of listening. When a woman shouted out to him in a crowd, “God bless your mother — the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you,” he replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 11:27-28).
Then, in his letter to believers in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote: “Faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
So this Christmas, during the season of Advent, take a moment not just to read Scripture, but to listen to it as well. Go to church and hear the Word of God preached, open the Bible app on your smartphone and listen to an audio version of Scripture, because hearing verses read aloud might just reveal to you something different than when you read them. And in prayer, pause expectantly. Pray with the anticipation of response; as Paul wrote to believers in Philippi, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6).
So this Christmas, when my family packs into our old Suburban once again to travel north, I’ll pause like the world around me. I’ll follow the lead of the rhythms God ordained in nature. I’ll stop to listen.
Check back here every Wednesday in December for another Christmas Devotional.