Do You Really Get It?
The story is told of a northern plains farmer who sat late one evening near his fireplace as a winter storm built to frightening proportions outside his home. It was beyond “bitterly cold.” This was one of those once-in-a-century deep freezes that blow in from Alaska and make precarious even the survival of creatures that are accustomed to cold, “winter-hardened.” His plow horses were safely inside the barn, for which he was grateful, for he knew nothing would survive outdoors for very long in this kind of weather.
Suddenly, oddly, he began to hear repeated, dull thudding against the windowpanes. Curious, he stood and went to the windows to find – much to his horror – that the thudding was caused by barn swallows desperately trying to reach the warmth inside his home. Knowing they could not survive the night under the conditions they were experiencing outside, his heart was filled with pity and compassion for the small creatures.
Feeling a need to do something, he stepped out onto the porch and stood for as long as he could (which wasn’t very long), willing the birds to fly into his house. The birds, unnerved by the human standing nearby, refused to approach the open door.
Next, after re-warming himself by the fire and finding the birds once again dashing themselves against the windowpanes, he tried opening the barn door and lighting a kerosene lamp inside, hoping the birds would spot another source of light and warmth and enter the barn. The man stood again for as long as he could inside the barn without causing injury to his own livestock or frostbite to himself, praying the swallows would figure out what was being done to save them from certain death. Alas, the swallows – again sensing the man inside – were too afraid to enter the structure.
At wit’s end, the man finally returned to his warm home. Sadly, he listened as the birds recommitted to their ill-fated efforts outside his windowpane. At last the frantic thudding subsided and then ended. The birds perished one by one, each one’s feathers blowing briefly against the grain before freezing, within an inch of a source of warmth and light. He thought, “What a tragic, useless loss of life.” There was nothing he had been able to do, nothing at all…
Then he considered remorsefully, “If only I could have changed myself into a bird. That way they wouldn’t have been afraid of me and I could have led them to a place of safety…”
Suddenly a revelation struck him. This was the first time he truly understood, to the marrow of his bones, God’s rationale for the Incarnation:
“God became a man in order to lead us away from dashing ourselves
to pieces in our hapless attempts to obtain security and survival!”
Like those doomed, desperate swallows, we often rush headlong into activities that lead us away from the source of our sustenance. We find attractive substitutes or well-concealed traps that divert us from what truly matters.
Now that we know, what will we do with the information? Feel “special as can be to Almighty God,” full of ourselves, puffed up with arrogant pride (as were the Pharisees of old in the Bible) – or will we take this amazing news to the ends of the earth and let everyone know how special they are? (Isn’t now the perfect time to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”)
The choice is ours. (Free will is one of God’s double-edged blessings).
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Book of Joshua, Old Testament