The song “Do You Hear I Hear?” has been a Christmas classic since 1963, when more than a million copies of Bing Crosby’s recording of it were sold. I learned it as a little girl in the children’s choir of the First United Church of Christ in my hometown of New Philadelphia, under the demanding direction of Mrs. Arnold.
Although the title of the song is “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, the first line of the song is “Do you see what I see?” That line has been haunting me the past few weeks as we have prepared for this night. Because, through the weeks of Advent here at Zion, we’ve essentially been giving some overlooked people in Scripture a chance to ask that question of us. We listened to their stories and thought about what Christmas means when we try to see what they saw.
We spent several weeks with Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father—the man entrusted with the task of raising God’s own Son. Joseph trusted in God’s assurance that it was all right for him to marry a girl who was pregnant with a child that was not Joseph’s, and he faithfully raised that son as his own. Joseph asks us, “Do you see in Jesus’ birth a God who gives us opportunities to participate in God’s plan for the world—opportunities that may involve taking a risk of some kind? Do you see a God who came to us as a human baby and calls us to care for all the children in our lives—our own and the children of others? Do you see what I see?”
We read the words of the prophet Isaiah, who lived hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, and with his eyes we saw that when we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the fulfillment of all that God has promised. God promised to send a Savior whose mission was to reconcile the world to God through grace-filled forgiveness. Isaiah asks us, “Do you see a promise-keeping God who came to us, sinful as we are, offering to forgive and restore us? Do you see what I see?”
Through John the Baptist’s eyes, we saw in Jesus both his humanity and his divinity. Jesus and John were cousins, but John knew that Jesus was so much more than that. John knew that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John asks us, “Do you see in Jesus the One who is both human being and God? Do you see that he is both your brother and your Savior, your friend and your Redeemer? Do you see what I see?”
When we looked at Christmas through the eyes of Elizabeth, John’s mother and cousin to the virgin Mary, we saw Jesus’ birth as a miracle that brought together two women of different generations for encouragement and affirmation. Elizabeth asks us, “Do you see that Jesus’ birth is evidence that nothing is impossible with God? Do you see that God gives us each other, young and old, so that we can support each other when life is hard? Do you see what I see?”
This morning, we looked at Christmas through the eyes of a shepherd—a man whose work put him at the very bottom of the social and economic ladder—someone no one would expect to be favored by God. The shepherd asks us, “In Jesus, do you see someone who looks deeper than the surface—someone who looks beyond the low-paying job that no one else respects, beyond the dirt under the fingernails and the less-than-elegant speech? Do you see in Jesus someone who loves what the world calls unlovable, touches the socially untouchable, and saves the supposedly irredeemable? Do you see what I see?”
Tonight we come full circle and return to the prophet Isaiah. His soaring words describe the One whom God promised to send. As we look into the manger bed, we again hear Isaiah ask, “Do you see what I see? I see a child named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. I see the one who will draw people from the darkness into heavenly light. I see the one who brings joy and freedom. I see the one who has the authority to bring endless peace, and justice, and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. Do you see what I see?”
The man who wrote the lyrics to “Do You Hear What I Hear” had his own view of Christmas. Noel Regney was born in France and looked forward to a brilliant career as a musician. He had studied at the Strasbourg Conservatory and the National Conservatory of Paris. But when France was overrun by Hitler’s troops, he was drafted against his will into the German army.
He hated the Nazis, so he joined the French underground. Wearing his German uniform, he gathered information and warned French resistance fighters of plots against them. But the mission that haunted him all his life was one where he had to lead German soldiers into a trap where the French fighters could catch them in a crossfire. Regney himself was shot in the arm, but what he remembered were the enemy soldiers falling to the ground.
Fast forward to October, 1962. Regney was married and living in Manhattan, composing music for many early TV shows and commercials, as well as serious compositions. But he, like all Americans, was living under the cloud of the Cuban missile crisis. For Regney, who had endured the horrors of war and knew the terror of being close to death, the feelings of despair and fear that hung over New York City were especially acute. But one day, as he was walking along the city streets, he saw two young mothers with their babies in strollers, walking side by side. The babies were smiling at each other and holding out their hands to each other.
The sight of these little ones, so much like little lambs, filled Regney’s heart with the words we sing today—a prayer for peace in the face of the spectre of nuclear war. We can imagine Regney saying, “Do you see what I see? I see a world in need of the peace only Jesus can bring—the peace that exists between little children, the peace that can only come about when we walk in the path of the One who brings us goodness and light.”
Do you see what I see when I look into the face of Emmanuel—”God with Us”? I see someone who loves me even when I fail, who knows I can’t do enough to earn God’s love and loves me anyway, who loves me not only because of who I am but in spite of who I am.
But what I see in Jesus is not as important as what you see. Maybe you see someone who gives you the strength to go on when everything in your life tells you to give up. Maybe you see someone who will be present with you in your darkest hours and your most joyous moments. Maybe you see someone who leads you through tough decisions, or holds you and those you love, even in illness, even in death. Maybe you see someone who will lead this world out of its injustice and cruelty. Maybe you see someone who will bring about God’s promised world of peace and joy.
But, maybe you’re not sure what you see, or you don’t see much at all. That’s OK. When the shepherds came to the stable, I expect they felt the same way. All they knew was what the angels had told them. They didn’t know who Jesus was—no one did yet, really, except Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth. All they knew was what they had been told: that the birth of this baby was good news of great joy for all people. All they needed to do was to come to the stable. The seeing and believing would come later.
In a few moments we will light candles and quietly sing of that silent night long ago when God revealed God’s self in a way that we could clearly see—in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We will gather in a circle near the front of the sanctuary. I will light the first candles. When your candle is lit, please turn to your neighbor and hold your candle upright and allow your neighbor to tip their candle into yours.
As we gather in a circle, let us see in it the eternal life that the baby in the manger came to invite us into. As we light our candles, let us see in their flames the Light that came into the world at Christmas. As we sing together, let us see in each other’s faces the ones the Christ Child came to save. Let us see “God with Us” as we celebrate his birth tonight. Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young