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The Sheep Know Him By His Voice

If you’ve been on the internet in the last week at all, you may have come across a delightful video featuring the British singer, Adele.  With help from the BBC and talk show host, Graham Norton, Adele disguises herself (and quite effectively) as “Jenny, the soft-spoken, very nervous nanny,” and joins a group of eight Adele impersonators in what appears to be some kind of contest.  Each of the Adeles is brought forward to sing, while the camera cuts away occasionally to the backstage chatter. It’s clear that the Adeles have spent a great deal of time learning how to be Adele: they try and replicate arm movements and vocal techniques, tells stories of feeling empowered by Adele once taking her shoes off at a concert to be comfortable.  Finally, it’s Jenny/Adele’s turn to sing.  No one has suspected who she is.  She comes onstage awkwardly, pretending to feel nervous and missing the cue to begin singing.  The other Adeles cluck sympathetically in the audience.  But then, she begins.  (Take a minute and check out the reaction).


Fooled as they were by the way Jenny/Adele looked and acted, her voice gives her away almost immediately. Joyful surprise, a few tears, and a group sing-along follow.

It’s a charming gag, of course. And it made me even happier to blast Adele’s newest album as I drive around town.

But it also made me think about Jesus’s words in John 10:4-5, when he asserts that the mark of his sheep are that they “follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” No matter the skill level of the Adele impersonators–and there is definitely a range presented–they had spent a lot of time pursuing being “Adele-like.” So much so that they knew the real thing when they heard it. (Even if it takes a couple of them a few moments to be sure). As one of the impersonators observed, “You can’t mimic that voice.” 

I wonder if we’re as clear on the voice we’re listening for?  If we’ve done enough to be those “imitators of Christ” that the scripture calls us to?  If we are intimately acquainted enough with Christ’s gestures and his words? If we are replicating them, even if clumsily? Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that “Christ plays in 10,000 places,” but I wonder if we find him in even a couple.

And when we do, if joy follows?

As we enter this Advent season, may we find all sorts of ways to recognize that voice made flesh–in all the unexpected places we will find him.


Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.

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