As Christmas day comes to an end, I find that I too am turning now from all the festivity to a time of more reflection. As I have, I have been drawn again to the Biblical story of Christmas. Not to the more familiar passages as recorded in Matthew 2 and Luke 2; but to the more metaphysical and theological statements of John 1, where he states:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (1:1,14). In between these two parenthetical verses, John gives the purpose of the incarnation: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men... The true light that gives light to every man...
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."
The finest theological minds of the last 2000 years have pondered the meaning of these verses, and no one has even begun to tap their richness. And yet, we keep trying. My post this Christmas day is a recounting of the story I shared at this year's Christmas Eve service. My copy came from Rev. Paul Decker, who illustrates the awesome mystery of the incarnation with this simple story in a way which few others have. I hope you enjoy it.
There was a man that was a kind, decent, and mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. "I’m truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.
But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat and galoshes, and then tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.
He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, the scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn. And then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
"If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself," and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand." At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – “O Come All Ye Faithful” - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow. This man rediscovered this truth… The Word became flesh.