Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas & the "Rest of the Story"

From David Barrett...

A Story for Christmas

Years ago, I was introduced to Paul Harvey by my wife's grandfather. Paul Harvey was a conservative radio commentator that had a daily news program and a daily story telling program called "The Rest of the Story." There were no other radio programs like the Paul Harvey programs then and there are no programs like them today. They were definitely unique, entertaining, and informative.

At Christmas time, Paul Harvey would often tell a story - a modern parable, he called it - that captured a key facet of why we celebrate Christmas. The story is better heard than read, and if you would like to hear the 1965 Christmas Day broadcast, you can use the following link:

Below is the script of the story: "The Man and the Birds"

I have designated this as my Christmas Story of the Man and the Birds. You know, THE Christmas Story, the God born a man 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. So for the cynics and the skeptics and the unconvinced I submit a modern parable.

Now 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 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 – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

This is exactly what God did. Philippians 2:5-7 tells us this fact:

"…Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men."

He became one of us; He became a man.

But, He did not enter this world as a fully grown man. No, He came in the delicate, fragile form of a newborn infant. He was born to Mary, a poor, lowly young lady, and his first bed was a manger – the feeding trough for animals.

It amazes me that God would enter the world in this fashion. We cannot fathom the humility it would entail to move from God of the Universe to a frail child among sinful mankind. Most people today are embarrassed to be around someone who is of a lesser "status" in society than themselves. But, there is not a status change in the economic, social, academic, or any other area that can be used to compare with the change of condition with which Christ had to undergo.

Yet, God, in Christ Jesus, did just that. He came to the earth to dwell among mankind. It is His birthday, into humanity that we celebrate.

And, now, as Paul Harvey would so often say, "The Rest of the Story":

As amazing as it is that God would become a man – what theologically is called the "incarnation" – to celebrate that act alone misses the true Christmas story. Just as the man in the parable above had a purpose for wishing he could become a bird, God had a purpose in becoming a man. The man in the parable wanted to provide a way for the birds to be saved from the winter blast. God, in Christ, had a purpose in providing salvation for mankind from the onslaught of sin.

God’s purpose for man's salvation, however, would require something never mentioned in the modern parable, and something likely never imagined by the man in the story. Philippians chapter 2, though, does include this most significant fact.

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:8)

Jesus came to the earth as a helpless baby in order to grow to be a man and die on the cross. If he had not died on the cross, then the real purpose for becoming a human being and being born in the Bethlehem manger would not have been fulfilled. If Jesus had been born and lived among mankind, but never died on the cross, then God would have spent time with man, but man would never be able to spend eternity with God. Only through the death of Christ on the cross is the penalty for man's sin paid, and the way for man to dwell with God opened to him.

Remember this Christmas season, that the celebration of the birth of Christ, God incarnate, is not the complete reason for our joy. Yes, Christ, God in the flesh, dwelt with mankind. That is an amazing and joyous thought. But, He came with a purpose which He did fulfill. Matthew, in his Gospel record of the birth of Christ told us of that purpose in the words of the angel who spoke to Joseph.

"…behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:20-21)

The baby born in the manger, became a man, and the man Jesus freely humbled himself to death, even the death on the cross, that you and I might live.

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