Said the night wind to the little lamb . . .
So begins the beloved Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” When we hear this song every December, we usually think it’s about hearing, seeing, and knowing what happened the night Jesus was born. But that wasn’t the main intent of the couple who wrote the song.
Noël Regney and his wife, Gloria Shayne Baker, collaborated on this song in October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regney was walking down a street in New York City thinking about the new Christmas song he had been commissioned to write. With the Soviet Union and the United States on the brink of nuclear war, everyone on the street seemed subdued and nervous. But then he spotted two women walking with their babies in strollers. “The little angels were looking at each other and smiling,” Regney recalled. “All of a sudden, my mood became extraordinary.”
The children reminded Regney of little lambs, and they became the inspiration for his new song. So using Christmas images of a little lamb, a shepherd boy, and a mighty king, he and his wife placed their plea for peace, which came right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, right in the middle of the manger scene.
Baker and Regney were right. The theme in their song—seeing and hearing and knowing something new—can be a perfect way for us to find peace during this season of Advent. So let’s do just that. Let’s imagine three different people asking us, “Do you see what I see?”—God the Father, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Spirit. What did God see as he looked on his people lost in sin? What did Mary see when she beheld her newborn Son? And what does the Holy Spirit see today—both in our hearts and in the world around us? As we do, let’s ask God to give new light to the “eyes of our hearts” so that we can be filled with his joy and his peace (Ephesians 1:18).
Through Our Father’s Eyes. When God asks us, “Do you see what I see?” he is asking us to try to look at this world through his eyes of love and mercy. When he sees the world, he sees a beautiful creation that he still calls “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He enjoys watching the sun rise and hearing the roar of the ocean. He delights in the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. Even landscapes as forbidding as the Arctic’s frozen tundra and the Sahara’s burning sands fill him with joy.
But nothing gives God greater joy than we do. Loving Father that he is, he rejoices when he sees us trying to care for each other and working to make the world a better place. He celebrates each of our personal successes and is proud of our every achievement. He sees the good in us, even when we have a hard time seeing it. And when we are hurting, he wants nothing more than to comfort us and help us stand up straight and tall once more.
What else does he see? He sees all the pain and suffering in the world, and he weeps over it. He agonizes over the wars that kill thousands and displace millions. He suffers over every single person who is alone, living in poverty, starving, or afflicted with painful illnesses. He even feels all the little hurts of life that everyone faces. He sees it all. He feels it all, and he longs to reach out to all people through his people.
An Unexpected Strategy. While God enjoys all the good he sees, he also suffers over the evil and sadness and loneliness he sees. In fact, it was seeing how his children were suffering under the weight of sin and all its effects that moved him to send his Son into the world.
But God seemed to follow an unexpected strategy in unfolding his plan. He could have sent his Son to be born into a wealthy family. He could have given his Son to Israel’s chief priest and his wife—or even to King Herod. Doesn’t that seem like a good idea? He could get the attention of the most influential people in Israel, people who could spread the word far more effectively than any ordinary citizen.
While this strategy might make the most sense to us, it didn’t fit into God’s designs. He chose instead to send his Son to a poor family in Nazareth rather than a royal family in Jerusalem. He chose hay instead of a down mattress for his bed. He chose shepherds and livestock instead of courtiers and servants for his companions. Then he told us, “Look at the manger. Do you see what I see? I wanted my Son to be born into poverty to prove that I am connected to all of you—rich and poor, healthy and sick, strong and weak. I care for all of you, and I want you all to imitate the humility that this Holy Family has.”
Everyone Is Worthy. At the very start of his ministry, Jesus told us the same thing that his Father had said. He had come to bring “glad tidings” to prisoners, “sight to the blind,” relief to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18).
Prisoners are not only those locked in jail cells. Selfish and sinful mindsets like jealousy and resentment can lock us up. The blind are not only those who have lost their eyesight. Any of us can be blind to God’s love or to our neighbors’ needs. Being poor is not always about money. Many people are emotionally broken, lonely, or spiritually dry—they are lacking in the resources they need to live whole and healthy lives. Jesus sees all of these people, and his heart goes out to them. Of course he has come to save them!
The people who know they are “poor” are most open to Jesus’ saving power. By contrast, people who are “rich” in themselves are not as open. They value their views over God’s views. They treasure their priorities over God’s priorities. They don’t see themselves as lowly and needy before the Lord. What’s more, they tend to be unaware of the needs of those who truly are lowly. It’s as if they have no room in the “inn” of their hearts for Jesus.
God has a special place in his heart for those who know they are lowly and needy. He has a special place in his heart for those who are truly poor and on the margins. He has special care for those who are both economically poor and those who feel emotionally or spiritually poor. So don’t disqualify yourself if you can only see the areas of your life that feel trapped in some kind of “poverty.” God sees all of you—every good and holy attribute that brings him delight and every wound and sin that sadden his heart. He is always close to you. He knows you and he cares for you. He will never reject you or look down on you. If you feel unworthy of such love, remember that it’s not true.
God is saying to us, “Do you see what I see? Everyone is worthy. I lifted up the lowly shepherds and the powerful Magi alike. This is exactly how my Son, Jesus, acted as well. He lifted up lowly people like prostitutes and tax collectors, and he lifted up influential people like Jairus, the synagogue leader, or Chuza, the wife of one of Herod’s most powerful public servants.”
A Rewarding Vision. When the shepherds heard the angels announce the good news of Christ’s birth, they immediately stopped what they were doing, left their sheep, and hurried to Bethlehem. When they arrived at the manger, all they saw was a little baby. Outwardly, he didn’t seem special or different from any other newborn. Still, the shepherds’ efforts were rewarded. Their spiritual eyes were opened, and they were able to see in this baby the fulfillment of God’s love and his promise of salvation.
Luke tells us that the shepherds responded with joyful praise, with amazement, and with an eagerness to tell other people about what they had seen (Luke 2:17-20). That’s because they caught a glimpse of God’s own vision for the world. They were able to look at the world as God does, with the same love, hope, and mercy that fill his heart.
God wants to reward us in the same way. He wants to give us our own glimpse into his vision and plan. Especially during this holiday season, our days can be so busy that we barely have time to sit back and think, much less to talk with the Lord. But the effort is well worth the reward. If we can spare just a little time each day to be with him, we’ll be blessed. We’ll begin to see what God sees. And that vision will change our hearts as we celebrate the birth of the Lord.