Steals on the Ear

listenOn All Saints Day, we sang my favorite hymn, “For All the Saints.” And though I have sung it a thousand times, this time when I sang it, a certain phrase caught my attention. In one verse we sing:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Steals on the ear? What does that really mean? A quick study of the word steal in this context revealed this meaning of the word: to move somewhere quietly or surreptitiously.

”That distant triumph song is moving secretly onto our ear“ is what that line is saying in our current vernacular.

I marvel at the writer, William W. How, who chose to use the word steal in this way and in this context. It is a beautiful imagery. While we are surrounded by all sorts of noisy sounds in our lives, a far-off tune is beckoning us to the victory celebration in heaven, where all the saints are surrounding the throne of Christ and praising him for saving us from sin, death and hell forever.

It recalls for me the experience of Elijah who heard God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still, small voice that Elijah had to strain to hear.

What sounds steal on your ear these days amid all the hustle and bustle of Christmas? These are jingle bells and Christmas carols and holiday commercials, but what do our ears need to be most attuned to? The distant cry of a baby in a small town thousands of miles from here. And in that small voice we hear God whispering to us, “I love you!”

Listen for that!





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