Snow began falling late that night, so the farmer walked the perimeter of the compound to ensure that all the gates were closed and the barn doors shut. The weather forecast promised plummeting temperatures to mimic the falling snow. Walking inside the farmhouse while the family slept, he looked up and breathed a prayer, thanking whoever was there for the invention of the furnace.
Sipping a cup of decaf, he watched as the tempo of the snowfall increased. All of his life, the reality of God and the existence of Jesus gnawed in his gut. Although he grew up in church, it never made sense to him. He didn’t wrestle with believing in a Supreme Being—but why the God of the Bible? Why the need for a son? Why Christmas? The whole notion of God coming to earth as a man seemed implausible and unnecessary.
It sounded like someone had just thrown a ball at the sliding glass door. He walked to the back of the house to see a flock of starlings huddled against the glass. One by one, the birds flew into the window, seeking shelter from the storm. They couldn’t comprehend the existence of a translucent barrier that would prevent them from being warm.
At first he chuckled at the birds’ vain attempts at seeking shelter, but soon he began feeling sorry for them. Without a warm refuge, the whole flock would freeze to death. For a moment, he considered opening the sliding glass door and letting them inside, but he knew an impulsive decision like that would create a mess and utter chaos.
All the while, the snowfall grew heavier as the temperatures continued their downward descent.
Reaching for his jacket, the farmer realized what he needed to do. If he just opened the door to the nearest barn and turned on the light, surely the birds would find their salvation. So out the front door he walked. After opening the barn door and turning on the light, he returned to the side of the house.
Hmmm, he thought to himself. Now how do I tell the birds that the barn is only 50 yards away.
“Hey!” he yelled at the birds. “Follow me! The barn’s right over there.” He felt silly talking to the birds, but he didn’t know what else to do. He ran around the corner of the house and toward the barn expecting the birds to follow him, but of course, they didn’t cooperate.
Next, he tried chasing the birds in their haven-ward direction, but they only scattered and returned to the sliding glass door.
Over and over in vain he tried leading them to safety, and with each successive attempt, his determination grew stronger.
After 30 minutes had passed, the evening snow had turned into a blizzard and the farmer was frantic. He desperately wanted to save the birds’ lives, but he didn’t know how. Finally, he fell to his knees and pleaded with tears in his eyes. “Please, follow me. I know how to save you from the blizzard. If you don’t follow me right now, you’ll die.” The starlings, however, seemed completely inattentive to his cries.
“Pleeeaase! Don’t you understand??” By now he was sobbing uncontrollably. “If only I could become a bird and tell you where to go, you would understand.”
Suddenly he stopped and thought about what had just come out of his mouth. He repeated his words, only this time he said it much slower. “If only I could become a bird and tell you where to go, you would understand.”
His cries changed direction. “God, I understand, I understand! You sent Jesus to earth to show us the way to safety.” His wails turned to laughter as his heart made the connection. “I believe! God, I believe! I love you Jesus!”
Then he opened the sliding glass door. “And I love you all, too.” The birds made a mess in his house that night but he didn’t care.
Jesus was born that night–and the manger took the form of an old farmer’s heart.
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.