“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and other songs, such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful” greet us as we walk along the Advent pathway leading to Christmas.
Advent has long been a time preparation preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Additionally, Advent is considered a season of repentance, and repentance means change a reorientation. This is needed in our world.
In our culture, people often prepare for Christmas either by an escape from life or by an excess of life. During what our world calls the holiday season, some seek to escape their pain by putting life on pause and entering into a time of festivity. They hope the pleasures of this world will dull their pain. Others merely seek the pleasures of this world. For some people, Christmas becomes an excuse for buying, eating, drinking, or partying to excess.
In the midst of those who escape from life and those who celebrate an excess of life, Advent calls God’s people to a change of life: to turn from their sin, to correct their misunderstandings, and to prepare for the coming of Christ.
Yet, the road to Christmas is anything but easy, as illustrated in the following story. I share with you the modern Christmas parable titled: “The Man and the Birds,” which Paul Harvey often read on the radio this time of the year.
“Now, the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a Scrooge; he was a kind, decent, 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 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 and sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted, wide-opened doorway of the stable.
But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them; he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they 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’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? 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 the 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 sound of the wind, and he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas . . . and he sank to his knees in the snow.”
How are you responding to the Christ who entered the world of humanity to set us free from sin?