Because I'm a pastor, people come to talk to me, sometimes when life gets really hard. This is one of the most painful statements I hear. It does not happen too often, but it does happen: "Cheri, I just don't know my partner anymore. We've been today for many years, but it's like she's another person. I don't know what happened. But I have no idea who she is anymore. It's more than us just growing apart. She does not seem to have a clue who I am. I feel like I'm talking to a complete stranger."
Have you ever felt like that? It's more lonely, isn't it, than being alone? You know, it's part of the basic human condition, that we want to be known. That's actually one of the best definitions of intimacy that I have ever heard. Intimacy is: "to know someone and to be known." We long for intimacy with other human beings. I believe that God longs for intimacy with us too. God longs to know us, and for us to know God.
That's really what Christmas is about. The gift of Jesus is God's attempt to know humanity. God was not satisfied being far away from God’s creation in Heaven. God wanted to get right here in the nitty gritty of our daily lives, in the flesh and blood of human existence to be with us. That's why God came to Earth in human form. So today, on this day after Christmas, I want to tell you a story, about God's desire to be with us. It's an old story told by Paul Harvey:
The Man and the Birds by Paul Harvey
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. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, 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 his 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, 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 yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But 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...Instead, 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? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, 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 safe, warm...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 sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste Fidelis [Oh Come All Ye Faithful] - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
Thank you Paul Harvey for this wonderful story.
You see, that is why God sent Jesus. To be one of us. To lead us to God. Now we don't get to meet Jesus first hand, because we did not live 2000 years ago. We have to trust the stories of our ancestors in the faith. But from generation to generation we have all been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who somewhere way back down the line, saw Jesus face to face. And that’s why we are here today.
Because God wants us to live in the warmth and the safety of God's embrace. God does not want us to be out in the cold, shivering and helpless, lost and without hope. God's big barn may not be fancy, but in it, there is warmth, and friendship, plenty of food to go around, and compassion and healing, and forgiveness.
We saw it outside the Main Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library yesterday on Christmas Day. We saw dozens upon dozens of people descend on a place where those in need know they can come on Saturdays for companionship, support, a little food and other items they need to get through a week. For the first time in the event’s existence it was on Christmas. And those giving out help out numbered those in need. We were there, a group from the Village, but we were not alone. A family decided to skip a gift exchange and instead provided hats, and scarves and other items to those who needed them. Others showed up with books and toys for the kids who come. Santa was even there with Fudge for all. It was a little glimpse of what God’s reign on Earth could look like. What we in The Village want to see.
It's a place I believe we all want to live. That's why Jesus came. That's why God sent Jesus to us. God wants to give us a home, because God wants to know us. Like a family member, a partner, a mom or a dad, a sister or a brother who knows us inside and out, God wants to know what's going on with us, and wants to guide us and support us. And because God is the one who made us, God will never fail to understand us.
So you may feel like no one else understands you. But God does. And that is a gift. And on this day after Christmas we give thanks for that gift. We give thanks that God knows us, and wants to know us. And that no matter who we are, and where we are on our faith and life journeys God will always want to know us and love us.
If you don’t know that kind of love, that kind of community, come join us at The Village. We are fellow travelers on that journey, some just starting, others further along on the path. Starting next Sunday, January 2nd, our worship celebrations are at 9:45 & 11:30 AM. Or join us as we live out our faith in the world at one of our small group or outreach events.