“Are you even listening to me?” I will admit, I’ve heard my wife say that phrase a few times. It’s usually at that marital intersection I call “the sharing of the day”. It doesn’t have to be bad; it should be really great, in fact. In my case, after a long day of work or work and then some meetings, while watching something mindless on Netflix and trying to think of nothing at all – my operating principle is, “I’ve been talking to people all day…and I don’t want to talk anymore.” and hers might be, “I’ve been talking to this 5-year-old all day…and I need some adult conversation.” But sometimes we give in to our sinful weakness and it turns out I’m really not listening…
As we begin this Advent season – our series of midweek worship opportunities – tonight God’s asking us that question: “Are you listening?” Are you listening to what the Lord says and does to prepare us for judgment?
We begin with the nation of Israel, from of old, long ago, after they walked out of Egypt with God’s plague of death all around. After they’d crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and had water from a rock, manna from heaven, and crowds of quail to eat. Tonight, it’s just after they’d stood below the mountain Sinai and seen God’s burning presence, melting rock and shooting lightning – a living, mighty volcano of righteousness. It’s just after they’d heard the sound of God’s voice, the horn on the freight train of justice barreling into their complaining lives. It’s when they were afraid that they would die because they just couldn’t listen to him and live. This is when God said, “What they say is good…you can’t listen to me in all my glory and live. To make you ready for judgment, the Lord is sending you a prophet…”
A prophet is someone who speaks for God, who brings God’s voice to God’s people. God’s Word is in that person’s mouth and it’s meant for our ears. If, in the midst of our busy and tired lives, we actually listen… Over the ages, many, many prophets have come – beginning with Moses who spoke to God face to face, through others like Isaiah or Jeremiah, Micah, Samuel… But in Advent we are listening for the one who will speak God’s Word like no prophet ever before; speak for us as one of us, but from God as God himself; who will truly prepare us to be unafraid before the mighty, righteous God and ready for his judgment. And if we do not listen…he will still call us to account. To stand before him on our own merits, with our own goodness, and to be afraid.
Hear God’s call. Listen…as Moses speaks the promise of the Prophet who prepares us for judgment, the Savior coming into the world…
Deuteronomy 18:15–19 (NIV84)
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
Have you ever experienced that moment where you’re talking at cross-purposes? Where you may be talking about the same subject but you’re coming at it from two wildly divergent perspectives? You’re talk with your friend about “democracy” – you assuming the term means all those things included in advanced capitalist countries and their democracies; your friend meaning the “people’s democracies” of all the communist regimes. At least part of the problem comes when we make assumptions about the other person, or we’re afraid of what they want or that we’ll be left out of the solution, and so we don’t hear what they’re saying.
In order to be prepared for judgment, we need to hear just what the Lord is saying. Certainly we would be inclined to make ready ourselves for such an important event as the arrival of God’s judgment. There are things you could observe in your lives: bad tendencies to change, good models to pursue, better habits to build – and thus to be ready. Surely we have interests we protect and things we love to keep too. But if we are concerned about our own purposes, our own aims, our own constructions, we may end up talking right past our God. We may be “cut off” from the conversation of God’s grace and peace.
He asks tonight, “Are you listening?” And what a beautiful reality we face if we let his question arrest our work and worry. If we stop to listen to the Prophet God has sent, we hear that our sin is serious. It’s more than our habits and our goals. It’s more than bad tendencies to be overcome. It’s pervasive destruction that leaves us unprepared – only to be guilty in judgment. Sin prepares us for death. But God’s Word isn’t judgment upon us. If we listen to God’s Prophet, we find the most gracious us-centered conversation ever. He speaks just as all God’s prophets ever did – he speaks of a promise by God himself, a covenant to bring blessings by his own work, as a pure gift – for us. He speaks of our sin – that it can only be righted in the Prophet, God’s chosen one who suffers in our place. In his suffering and death, Jesus spoke God’s Word: your sins are paid. His call is simply that we repent – turn away from dead sins to God’s living, forgiving grace. His call is to listen, to wait, to long for Christ’s coming when he will prepare us in the best way as he brings refreshment and peace.
Peter reminds his listeners that children of God wait and long to hear of the blessings God’s Prophet brings:
Acts 3:18–26 (NIV84)
18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ 24 “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Every night, once or twice, I can hear it throughout my home in Waukesha. I can hear and feel the freight trains running down by the river even though we’re blocks and blocks away. Sometimes it’ll catch me off-guard. I’ve heard it so many times I’ll forget that it happens. Then I’ll feel that rumble, hear this sound in the distance, and say, “Quiet! Shhhh! Can you hear that?” And then, of course, I’ll remember…
Tonight, are you listening? Can you hear it? God has sent his Prophet. He has spoken of the guilt of our sins – said they’re paid and done. He has spoken of blessing and rest – said we have comfort and peace. He has spoken God’s Word – He is God’s Word.
Our Lord prepares us for judgment by bringing himself. Jesus comes onto the scene of history, recorded in the gospels for all to hear. How does he come? In all the power of God’s Spirit – bringing to bear all of God’s promise and power to turn hearts away from sin and to salvation in him. Naturally we listen to the things that we think will work. We read the authors whose opinions are praised. Jesus’ coming begs for our hearing, demands our attention. It is the only effective way, the power to be ready. And as he comes, this work resounds in hearts. It ripples over the countryside. It brings praise in homes and churches. Why? Because the word on the breeze, the excited tweets, the headline news stories tell not more of our own failure, more of deflated expectations, more of devastation and disappointment…exactly the opposite. Tonight, God’s Prophet stands up to speak. He begins with this: everything God has said is fulfilled in him.
Listen. Can you hear it? Rumbles in the distance the song of freedom and recovery, of release from sin and favor with God. And he’s speaking to you…
Luke 4:14–21 (NIV84)
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”