The following story was told many years ago by Paul Harvey on his popular radio broadcast. The first time I heard it I was deeply touched by its message. I still am, and hope you will be too.
The Christmas story—the “God-born-in-a-manger” and all that—escapes some moderns. Mostly, I think, because they seek complex answers to their questions, and this one is so utterly simple. For the cynics, the skeptics and the unconvinced, I submit a modern parable.
This is about a modern man. One of us.
He 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 did not believe in 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 could not swallow the Jesus story. About God coming to earth as a man.
“I am truly sorry to distress you,” he said to his wife, “but I am not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he would much rather stay home. But that he would wait up for them.
He stayed. They went.
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, then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.
Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, then another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.
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 had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well . . . he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze.
He remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it.
He quickly put on 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 and he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs, 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 breadcrumbs 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 scurried in every direction—except into the warm, lighted barn.
Then he realized 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 they can trust me, that I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them.”
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.
And then – snap – the thought struck him. “If only I could be a bird myself. If only I could be a bird and mingle with them and speak their language and tell them not to be afraid and show them the way into the safe, warm barn.”
“But I’d 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.
He stood there . . . listening to the bells. . . Adepter Fidelio . . . listening to the bells pealing the glad tiding of Christmas.
And he sank to his knees in the snow.