Hearing his voice

The Rectory, December 1998

The Revd Canon Leslie MorleyAdvent is the time of waiting and of preparation. Its purpose is to prepare us to recognise the God who comes to us in the midst of life. We need a season of Advent because God’s ways are not ours and we can so easily miss his coming because God does not live up to our expectations. Our expectations are shaped by what we think we need to make us content. God’s hope is for our transfiguration. This may be more than we want! He comes to gather us up into his work of saving love and saving justice.

In the Jewish Talmud there is a famous story about the coming of the Messiah:

Rabbi Joshua came upon the prophet Elijah as he was standing at the entrance of a cave. He asked him, "When is the Messiah coming?"
Elijah replied, "Go and ask him yourself."
"Where shall I find him?"
"Before the gates of Rome."
"By what sign shall I know him?"
"He is sitting among the poor people, covered with wounds…"
So Rabbi Joshua went and found him, and said, "Peace be with you, my master and teacher!"
The Messiah replied, "Peace be with you, son of Levi!"
Then Rabbi Joshua asked him, "When are you coming, master?"
He replied, "Today!"
Rabbi Joshua returned to Elijah and told him, "He has deceived me! He told me, "Today I am coming!" and he has not come."
Elijah said, "What he told you was, ‘Today - if you would only hear his voice’." (Psalm 95:7)

The story warns us that God confounds our expectations because he is greater than them. It warns us that God in his coming seeks our response and that we shall not know him if we do not respond to him, if we are not open to hearing his word, his voice. If his concerns have not become ours, in however faltering a way, we will not recognise him - or worse we shall think God has deceived us. Look, the Messiah is to be found sitting outside the gates of the great city, among the poorest and covered in the wounds of humanity. That is not what we expect, or indeed really want if we are honest, from our Messiah. Yet if we have listened deeply to his voice in the scriptures we surely would expect to find him among the wounded, bearing our sorrows, accepting our poverty of heart, being with those who are outside the gates of world prosperity. He will also not come for us if we do not hear his voice and respond. At the first Christmas he was able be born among us because Mary heard God and took the bold and awesome responsibility of saying "yes" to God. God will not come for us this Christmas or at any Christmas if we do not listen to his voice and say "yes" to his concerns. Then we shall feel let down by God and deceived - for yet another year. Yet the wonder is that through our openness to him his life and love can become a reality in us and his voice or word incarnated in our humanity also.

Leslie Morley


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St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 29th November 1998