Coral Infantil Sementes da Esperança (http://www.alagoas24horas.com.br/conteudo/?vCod=77856)
Some time ago, Lau and I were invited to participate at a youth conference and for the first time I was listed as speaker. Usually my articulate, immersed-in-the-wisdom-of-the-Bible husband, was keynote preacher and I accompanied him for support and maybe a question-answers session for women, but I was never a spokesperson. This time was different: both of us would be speaking to the entire group at different sessions, and I must say I loved the idea. The week before the event, my doctor pronounced a verdict on my intermittent sore throat: we’ve got to operate, or the infections will escalate to unbearable heights. So I had a tonsillectomy and was forbidden to speak. I went to camp with Lau and the young people of the church, but was not only mute for public speaking but also for singing praises. All I could do was play the recorder – and I was never a great instrumentalist –when they sang in congregation. I wrote expressing my frustration:

Lord, I want to be a mouth,
shout from mountaintops, proclaim through great reads
-- but today you make me silent,
and to a mute voice you whisper, “Just be still
and remember that I Am.
I give and take what plans you make
to work out well all one can say
of mercy and sheer grace.”
  I wanted to proclaim, I confess it now,
for it made me sound important
   and the sound of my enamored voice seemed
   clearer than the message I was to communicate.
“Dumb speaker, talk with your life,
shout with your being and love with your seeing,
be a hearer, be a doer – but stay quiet,
listen humbly, learn intensely, share my infinite gentleness!”

When our children were young and my mother was visiting, she once exclaimed, “They are so loud! Why can’t they be more quiet and polite like so-and-so’s kids?” I confess that I was never a good teacher of politeness or quietude. At the dinner table we always seemed to have wild discussions about everything under the sun – sometimes three or four simultaneously. Ideas, dreams, frustrations, spiritual struggles and temporal victories were all on the table, spilled over, hoarded while shared, communicating thought and hope with words, not always of wisdom, but always wielding authenticity. Sometimes our words rose from the flesh, but we always looked toward the Word who became flesh, and tried to flesh out faith in action. All of us, became, become and are becoming speakers, though the sound of music runs from rhythmic rap to symphonic praise to the simple do re mi of pain.

When I consider that one of the only permanent aftershocks of my cerebral vascular accident is losing my voice I must concede that God was generous to me. (He is always generous and good and would still have been good if I had lost everything, even my life – but a proud and strong-willed loudmouth can learn a lot when she is not the soloist and can’t even carry a tune in the choir – if she learns to listen well). So losing one’s voice is an opportunity for learning to hear – even when one perceives that physically my hearing impairment is increasing.

Jesus’ brother may have had similar issues before he wrote: My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1.19NIV). Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger! My tendency is the opposite: quick indignation, quick and easy talking, hard of hearing and harder still to listen well, so James’s admonition is counterpoint to what comes naturally. And we not only must listen well, but do what we heard from God. Jesus said that what distinguishes his sheep from others is: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10.27). Christ knows those who listen to him, and those who hear his voice follow him. Doers and not just hearers or sayers (I must concede that some Sayers, like Dorothy, are real doers with their stories – but you get the point).

One of the aspects of writing, for me, is communicating truth in a way that is lovely and loving. Paul says it well: “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” and “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” Ephesians 4:15, 25). The result of truthful communication in love is growing in all things in Christ, and the reason we do so is that we are all members of the same body.

We see progression: good listening yields true speech, which results in growing as participants in one body. When Charles Wesley expressed the desire for a thousand tongues to speak the praise of our Redeemer, he was not just talking about multiple languages. We believe there are people out of every tribe and nation who have heard and are practicing the written Word by the living Word incarnate – so more than a thousand tongues are talking, and talking well. But each singular Christian has the opportunity to express what has been expressed in: “the honors of thy name”. One Word made flesh and dwelt among us – this “charms our fears, bids our sorrows cease, breaks the power of cancelled sin, sets the prisoner free, ‘tis music in the sinner’s ears, ‘tis life and health and peace”[1]. Wesley’s wording is laden with awesome!

Isaiah saw the incredibly awesome throne of the Lord, encircled by six-winged seraphs singing the holiness of the God who fills the earth with his glory. The prophet’s exclamation was not of having reached a personal pinnacle of spiritual success – on the contrary, he had to say “Woe to me! I am a man of unclean lips, and live with people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty!” Isaiah’s mouth was touched and his guilt removed, and he was commissioned to tell God’s wayward people “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken” (Isaiah 6.7-12). A prophet sent by God must communicate the truth even under the threat of total ruin. In an utterly forsaken land, arises a voice crying in the wilderness – predicted by prophets, fulfilled by the last prophet of the old covenant: John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3; 43:19; Matthew 3:3). Even the advent of the locust and honey-eating prophet was preceded by his father Zechariah’s being stricken with... muteness (Luke 1.5-20). And John was called to preach in the middle of nowhere – in the desert of Judea. Some of God’s servants who were pretty holy had to shut up while God was entering humankind!

Awesome were the scenes witnessed while shepherds watched their flocks and angels sang one unforgettable night, and the uncultured sheep-watchers were commissioned to spread the word concerning Jesus (Luke 2:8-18). The same John (not the Baptist, but the old apostle who had walked with Jesus since early in his lifetime) who spoke about the Word made flesh (John 1.1-14) wrote to complete the joy of every believer with “the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete!”(1 John 1:1-5). Nearly a hundred years later, John heard the voice of angels and fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing the vision of the eternal city, when the messenger intervened: “But he said to me, Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (Revelation 22:8).

The entire Bible is laden with the dance of hearing, understanding, and being silent and acknowledging our woe before we can communicate life-giving speech. Listening to the voice of the Wind that blows when and where he wishes (John 3:8-12) we are born anew. It is in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11, 12) that the Lord speaks to us after letting loose earth-shattering thunder and fire. Likewise, he expects our powerful speech, whether through multimedia at full volume or written books shared by word of mouth in plain English or Portuguese (in our case), or Chinese, or International Sign Language, Swahili or any other language in this world, to be simple, understandable truth spoken in love, with the whisper of the Spirit that resounds throughout the earth.

This Christmastide, I wish I become known for listening well – not just music that I love, but God’s forever music, the sound of a mighty rush of wind and a gentle breeze that touches one’s life to leave it never the same. I wish my friends to hear the Voice – not voices of idols or babble of incoherent speech, but the voice we are admonished to listen to without hardening arteries or heart. May we develop learnable hearts and minds, so we acknowledge the God who gives “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning” (Daniel 1:17).

I remember my Jewish friends who celebrate the feast of lights, Hanukkah, a lesser festival in their calendar, and the words of the prophet who was displaced from his land and served faithfully through several international[2] dynasties:

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he sets up kings and deposes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.

This song is reminiscent of Paul in his letter to the ex-pagan Corinthians:

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,"
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this all-surpassing power
is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

May Faith communicate the truth of a brilliantly happy Christmas to you and yours, with glories that are not our own, and treasures multiplied throughout the earth in every tongue, for every nation!

Elizabeth Gomes

[1] O for a thousand tongues to speak, Charles Wesley, in Hymns of the Christian Life # 7, Philadelphia: Christian Publications
[2] From the year 605 to around 532 BC, from Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon through Cyrus, the Mede, and then Darius, king of Persia.

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