I was hoping with the advent of digital technology, that the days of me experiencing interference on my radio would be gone; sadly not. I can still experience the frustration of knowing someone out there is trying to communicate with me, but the background crackle and hiss can often make this difficult to understand. It can be like that when trying to listen to God.
The reading from Samuel reminds us all that God knows us by name, that he will not force himself upon us, that he desires a relationship and that there is nothing wrong with his ‘transmitting’ equipment. The problem is always with our receivers. Some of the challenges in receiving and hearing God’s voice is that many don’t even know, or cannot believe that he is even trying to. There may be a lack of interest in that possibility, or the reality that it is our own behaviour that is causing the problem. Our ‘receivers’ are all too often tuned to a different channel – we’re following our own desires and ignoring the voice of the creator speaking into our lives.
All of these factors were playing out in the nation of Israel at the time of Samuel’s encounter in the temple. The nation had degenerated socially, morally, politically and spiritually. Even the priests, set to uphold the values of God, were corrupt and taking advantage of the people and Eli’s sons were part of the problem. It is into this situation that God raises Samuel to make a difference, and so, He speaks his name. Learning how to hear the voice and heart of God is the solution to a thousand and one problems we may face, but even more than that; it’s the key to discovering who we truly are, discovering our destiny and fulfilling the incredible God given potential that is locked within us.
On three occasions that night, God calls to Samuel, and, because we’re told that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, he thinks it is Eli calling him. The fact that it takes three times for Eli to realise what is happening may be down to his own ‘spiritual antenna’ being tainted by his behaviour and what he is surrounding his life with. Wrong thoughts and attitudes and behaviour, create noisy interference. It is to his credit, however, that he finally understands and is instrumental in leading Samuel to his first encounter with God. The situation needed explaining and the boy needed to be led towards the reality of God. This is a very important message for all of us with children, grand-children, god-children.
We have a critical responsibility to them to do the same. I have no time for the argument that proposes, ‘if they want to find out, then they will do it for themselves’. To what other area of life do we apply this approach? If we consider something is important for our children, we ensure we let them know about it and lead them into it. I truly believe, that knowing God and encountering him for ourselves is the most significant discovery anyone of us can ever make in our lifetime. It is far too important to be ever left to chance. God calls Samuel by name, because He wants Samuel to understand that He knows him personally and to help Samuel to get to know the sound of His voice. This encounter changes Samuel’s life and the life of the nation.
We live in a culture were so many want to be heard but sadly, have so little to say. Consequently, we are losing our ability and willingness to really listen .. especially to God. The tragedy is, that it is only ever by listening to Him that we will ever have anything of consequence to contribute. Be prepared though, for God will speak comfort into our lives but He will also speak conviction and it is often what we want to hear least that we need to hear the most. So … when was the last time you heard God speak to you? When was the last time you gave him the slightest opportunity to do so? It may take time and practice, but I encourage you to find a quiet place and the mental space to speak the words of Samuel and await a response: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
With the Lord’s blessing
For many of us the Christmas season is a period of travel. We, or family members may undergo a journey to be able to spend time with one another, and watching our family arrive for delayed festivities on the 27th, I was reminded of just how much ‘stuff’ often accompanies mum and dad and two small children on just such a trip! We make decisions about what to bring but equally, of what to leave behind and the consequences of getting that wrong can have significant ramifications. I speak from experience !
The events that Matthew details are those of a very significant journey; the journey of the Magi, or wise men as they are popularly known. They too had to make decisions on what to take with them and what to leave behind, both before their adventure began and, crucially, during it. But their journey has significance beyond their immediate circumstances, for it is a journey that we are all invited to make.
The birth of Jesus brought three distinct reactions when it took place, and it still does today.
The Magi were Persian priests / scientists who were noted for their study of the skies. What they saw in the sky has been discussed across the centuries and still is, but they saw something which for them, signalled the need to make an important journey. This was a decision that could not have been taken lightly. It would be a journey that would take many months and lead them across dangerous terrain and situations, yet they set off to search for a King and in doing so they follow a Biblical pattern of revelation that had taken place countless times before them, and, has been repeated countless times since; God reveals knowledge about himself, a journey (physical or spiritual) begins, and at the end, there is greater understanding. It’s a sequence played out in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Daniel, Jonah, the Disciples, St Paul etc, countless billions since and is still happening today.
So, what can we learn from this familiar story? 1) That Jesus is for everyone and frequently sought out by the most unlikely of people. Yet, for all those who do search, He makes himself known and He is found. 2) That the Magi made sacrifices to discover the truth and that they left behind a great deal to make the journey. What I wonder, might we be being called to leave behind in our search? What areas in our lives do we need to discard or move away from as we search to discover more and more of Jesus?
As part of their journey an Angel of the Lord appeared and instructed them to avoid meeting with Herod again, and so, they return home by a different path. When we meet Jesus, he always takes us in a new direction as we are called to leave behind those things in our lives which bring distraction, confusion, deception and danger to our physical and spiritual well-being.
God wants us to discover Jesus. Some reading this may never have taken that step – God calls you to that adventure. Why delay? To those who already know Jesus as a living reality in your lives, He is always calling us into a deeper and more powerful understanding and knowledge of who He is. Start afresh.
The Magi brought precious gifts that symbolised the importance and significance of Jesus in their lives. Today, we are invited to do the same; the thing that is most precious to Jesus is our heart, our longing, our trust, our faith. He wants our whole heart in order that he might make our heart whole.
Wise men sought Jesus … wise people still do.
Happy New Year to you all
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale