November 26, 2018
The story of Christmas is the story of “God with us” is the very foundation of our Christian faith. Many years ago, Paul Harvey, a well-known national newscaster and a Christian, recited a story on his radio program about why “God with us” is such an important aspect of the Christian message. The story is called, “The Man and the Birds.”
A man’s family left to go to church on Christmas Eve. The man was an agnostic who doubted the whole Christmas story about Jesus coming to earth as a man and being born in a manger. He passed on going to the Christmas Eve church service with his family to spend a quiet evening at home. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. The man 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. A few 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 had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, they 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. It could provide a warm shelter, if he could only direct the birds to go into it. Quickly, he put on a coat and boots 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, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the lighted, wide open door 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. Then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could 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 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 out a Christmas carol. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. As He stood there listening to the bells, pealing the glad tidings of Christmas he fell to his knees in the snow. Suddenly it made so much sense. God became a man so He could show us the way to safety. He wanted to save us. He realized that was the true meaning of Christmas, “God with us.”
The name Emmanuel takes in the whole mystery that Jesus is “God with us.” He had a nature like our own in all things, except without sin. But though Jesus was “with us” in human flesh and blood, He was at the same time completely God. We find, as we read the scriptures, that Jesus could be tired and hungry and thirsty. He could weep and groan and feel pain like one of us. Christian author and pastor Greg Laurie said, “It is great to know that God is with you wherever you go. The Bible never teaches that we will have problem-free lives as followers of Christ. But the Bible does teach that we never will be alone. And because of that, we don’t have to be afraid.” That is the message that this sin-sick world needs to hear that Immanuel “God” is with us. The psalmist said, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me,” Psalm 139:9–10.
As we celebrate the season of Christmas this year, may we realize, more than ever before that Jesus truly knows our human condition, because his miraculous coming to earth was the way God chose to rescue us from our helpless condition. It is Jesus who knows how we feel when people turn their back on us, when we lose someone we love, or when we are falsely accused by someone, and as followers of Christ, we also know that it is Jesus who offered himself at the cross so that we can fine safety in the arms of a loving God.