They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
A remarkable thing happened last Sunday. I was sitting and listening to the reader speak the words of the prophet Isaiah. She was reading chapter 11, and when she got to verse 9, a strange and wondrous thing happened. As her treble voice read the words “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” I heard a second, deeper voice speaking, as if two voices were in perfect unison. One part of my brain said, “Huh, the sound system is acting up,” just as another part of my brain firmly said, “This is God’s voice. Listen up.” Was it a bug in the sound system or was it really the voice of God?
As my internal debate started to fire up, I heard myself repeat what a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago when I was unsure what I thought about something: “A thing can be two things.” God can speak through a funky microphone moment. I don’t really know how that doubled voice happened, and I’m okay with it. I’m trusting the voice that said, “It’s God. Listen up.”
Of course, once I settled on that truth, I was left with a new conundrum: what should I do? No, no, not the lofty question, not what should I do about this message. I as asking a far more mundane question: should I tell anyone? Would they think I was nuts? What if I was wrong about this whole encounter? What if they didn’t think I was nuts and, worse yet, started to expect me to hear God’s voice like that all the time?
I began to feel a great deal of sympathy for Joseph, actually. Twice in the gospel of Matthew, Joseph receives a message from God in a dream, and you know what he says about it? Nothing. Joseph says absolutely nothing to anyone about these divine messages. In fact, Joseph never speaks at all in the entire Bible. I mean, we’ve gotta assume he told somebody sometime so they’d know to put those stories into Matthew, but it seems like he wasn’t eager to say anything right away. He listened to the messages, and did what God commanded, but he wasn’t telling anybody why.
I wonder how long it took Joseph to work up the courage to tell someone about his dreams. Did he tell Mary first? Or did he whisper to a toddler Jesus the story of the angel messengers? Did he question whether the dreams were really from God or if it was just yesterday’s burrito talking back to him? Was Joseph excited when the angels appeared in his dreams, or was he terrified? Maybe it was a little bit of both. He was human, after all.
The people in the Bible are people just like us. They ask questions like ours. They get scared. They get angry. They act impulsively. Sometimes, they just need a nap and a snack. They also love God. They care for one another. They do their very best to listen to God, just like we try to do. Some of them needed time to figure things out before they told anyone about their encounter with God. Others went straight into the streets to tell anyone who would listen. Both responses are faithful ones.
God, help me listen for your voice. When I hear it, help me follow you. Keep me faithful, like Joseph and Mary, like the shepherds and magi, like all your dear children. Amen.