Word from Pastor Anglin ......

VOLUME 74 - NO. 12

December 2003

 

 "Christmas for the Birds"

Our two-year-old Sunday school class is undertaking an interesting project for Christmas--outdoor tree ornaments. Ornaments made...from bagels! The bagels are spread with peanut butter, then sprinkled with bird-seed. Hung upon a tree limb, these ornaments give feathered visitors a Yuletide treat.

An appropriate ornament--because birds are deeply associated with Christmas. So many Christmas songs and poems mention birds. Of the numerous gifts mentioned in "The Twelve Days of Christmas", half of them are birds: partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese, swans. "People Look East", a great Advent carol, compares Jesus to a bird:

Birds though ye long have ceased to build, guard the nest that must be filled

Even the hour when wings are frozen, He for fledging time has chosen

People, look East and sing today, love the Bird is on the way.

This is actually a Biblical theme--for God often is compared to a bird in the Scriptures: "He will hide you in the shadow of His wings, and under His feathers you will find refuge" (Psalm 91:4). The Holy Spirit, who brought Jesus to life in the womb of the Virgin Mary, appears in the Bible in the form of a dove. So Christmas birds can remind us of how God came to us in Christ to be our Saviour.

The early Church fathers often remarked on how a bird with wings extended resembles a cross. So when we think about Christmas birds, our thoughts also are drawn not only to Bethlehem, but also toward Calvary--where Jesus stretched forth His arms on the Holy Cross to take away our sins. When the Psalmist says, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 17:8), those words ultimately urge us to find our peace and our comfort in the cross.

Other classic Christmas pieces depict birds rejoicing at the birth of Jesus. The "Carol of the Birds" says:

 

Upon this holy night, when God’s great star appears,

And floods the earth with brightness

Birds’ voices rise in song, and warbling all night long

Express their glad heart’s lightness.

In the carol, the nightingale rejoices that Christ is born to take away sin and sadness; the finch gives thanks to Christ; and the Partridge flies to Bethlehem to build a nest by the manger. (Actually an even better location than a pear tree!).

The birds in the song give me my instructions: like the nightingale, I want to rejoice that Jesus came to take away my sin and sadness; like the finch, I want to give thanks for His love; and like the partridge, I want to make my home at the manger, to place my heart at the manger, and be united with Jesus always!

At Christmastime, we do a lot of singing. Here, too, we imitate the birds. They continually sing to God--their song has a wondrous beauty that gives Him glory. The great 20th century Christian composer Olivier Messiaen, who was fascinated by birdsong, once said that a bird represents "a little messenger of transcendent joy." He also suggested that the human practice of singing is something we learned from the birds. So when we think about Christmas birds and the way they sing for joy to God, it can motivate us to keep a song of praise continually flowing in our hearts--as Paul says in Scripture, "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19).

When I think about Christmas birds, inevitably a famous and beloved story comes to mind: about an unbelieving man who stayed at home while his family went to Christmas Eve services. He laughed at his family’s belief that God had become human in Christ--even if there were a God, why would he want to be born into our world? As he sat alone in his house, reading a book, there was a sudden thump against the window. He looked out and saw a flock of birds gathered on his lawn. The temperature outside had suddenly plummeted, and the birds, sensing the warmth of the house, were trying to come inside. They continued flying against the window, and the man realized they were either going to freeze or were going to kill themselves by battering against the glass. He felt pity for the poor creatures--and then thought of his garage! They’d be safe in the garage! He threw on a coat and hurried outside. After opening the garage, he tried to herd the flock toward safety. But the birds were confused and threatened by this massive figure running among them and urging them with words and gestures. They scattered, flew in every direction except toward the garage. The man kept trying and trying...but all he did was terrify the poor birds. He couldn’t get them to fly into the safety of the garage.

In his frustration, he thought: "If only I could become a bird and lead them toward the garage...then they’d be saved! If only I could become a bird..."

At that moment, a distant church bell announced the beginning of the Christmas service. And it all came crashing in on the man--God becoming human... His unbelieving heart melted as he sank to his knees in the snow...

I think I’ll follow our two-year-olds’ lead and decorate my trees with peanut butter bagels this year. I want to be reminded of Christmas birds...reminded of the Lord who came into this world to save me...and reminded to sing continually with joy to His holy Name!

God loves you and so do I! Have a very blessed Christmas!

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