The news of Jesus' birth continues to spread. Like the shepherds, Anna and Simeon have bandwidth to listen. While we may often wish God would speak, we rarely assess our own capacity to hear -- yet this idea of capacity, of bandwidth, is critically important throughout the Bible. "I just want God to speak to me like he did to Moses -- to show up in a burning bush. If he did, I would certainly obey." We say things like this, mostly joking, but we perceive a significant disconnect between ourselves and biblical characters who heard God speaking. So with Simeon and Anna in this passage. How did they hear? How did they know?
Yet when Jesus is an adult preaching to his people, he frequently puts the burden back on them. "The one who has ears, let them hear," he often says. It is a provocative challenge: Do you have ears??
Read the biblical texts more closely. Why did those people hear, and others did not? So often, the ones who heard had bandwidth. There was margin in their lives. Shepherds sat on the quiet hillside staring at the stars night after night. Simeon and Anna were in the temple constantly seeking God. Moses spent forty years herding sheep in the wilderness, and when the burning bush showed up he watched for a significant amount of time before he noticed anything strange was going on. Read Exodus 3 and you'll see it's because the bush was not consumed by the fire that Moses decided to investigate. How long did it take him to realize the bush wasn't burning up? Ten minutes? In that time most of us would have traveled miles down the highway and run three or four more errands. That strange burning bush would be in the rearview mirror and might at best be fodder for dinner conversation later in the day. But Moses, like the shepherds and Simeon and Anna in Luke 2, has bandwidth. He has cultivated habits of silence, of listening. He has ears.
What is perhaps most surprising in the account is how normal everything is for Joseph and Mary. They are managing the mundane details of naming, of circumcising, of purification, of travel, of childrearing. It almost sounds in the story like they are more often than not preoccupied with the daily details of life and these periodic announcements from God surprise them, astonish them, call them back to remembering that God is up to something.
We tend to slide back into a deceptive sense that life is just normal. No matter what God has promised, no matter what God has declared, we need to pick up groceries, go to work, clean the bathroom, take a nap. And we get complacent with the idea that God has made us great and powerful promises, precisely because we don't see immediate fulfillment. We're not capable of living on the heights, staring God's plans in the face, and that's a good thing. God gives us the gift of normalcy. The trick for us is not to forget in the face of the mundane details that God is still up to something, that he is fulfilling his promises, that he is at work in and through and around us, and that his promises are good. "Having ears" starts with cultivating times of silence, of listening, on a daily basis, and then amidst the clutter, intentionally reminding ourselves of what we have heard and seen and read and remembered in those times of listening. If we can learn this habit over time, it creates in us a spirit of watchfulness, a posture of listening. Like Anna and Simeon, then, we can perceive when God shows up, and the conversation with him about his work, about the future he is creating, becomes a daily source of hope and expectation.