When I was growing up in church, we didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmastime because we weren't sure he was born then. And we didn't celebrate at other times of the year because we would have felt out of place. I heard a lot about Jesus' teachings, and about his death, burial, and resurrection, but little about his birth. What a shame! He couldn't have lived and died without being born, and that makes his birth something to be celebrated.
Christians believe in the miracle of his virgin birth, and we also believe that this miracle baby was God incarnate — God becoming human. The newborn Savior was fully human and fully divine — a mystery that only heaven will fully reveal.
One of the best religion writers early in my ministry was Louis Cassels of United Press International. His "Religion in America" column was widely read from 1955-1974. He was unique among his peers because he wrote to advance his personal Christian faith rather than to just report events of religious interest. For several years he struggled to find an effective way to communicate the doctrine of the incarnation which he believed to be "the heart of the Christian faith…that God has revealed himself in history in the person of Jesus Christ."
In December 1959, Cassels wrote "The Parable of the Birds," so popular that Paul Harvey featured it year after year, and it is still told countless times every Christmas season.
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. So he stayed while his family went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away, 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 the 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, galoshes, trampled 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. So he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs, sprinkled them on the snow. He made a trail to the brightly lit wide open doorway of the stable. 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. But 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 am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how?
Any move he made tended to frighten and 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 listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
"Now I understand," he whispered, "now I see why you had to do it."
Every time you hear "Merry Christmas!" this year, I hope you will give the greeting your own special meaning. Come, let us worship the king! Christ, our Immanuel and God incarnate, is born in Bethlehem!