If I had a journalist that I looked to growing up, it would have been Paul Harvey. Harvey was a conservative American radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio Networks until his death in 2009. His News and Comment broadcast aired mornings and mid-days and at noon on Saturdays. His listening audience was estimated to peak at 24 million people – carried on 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations and published in 300 newspapers. The most notable features of Harvey’s folksy delivery were his dramatic pauses and the quirky breaks in his voice.
Each Christmas at noon, Paul would read a modern parable which he labeled “My Christmas Story – The Man and the Birds.” He was as uncertain of the story’s proper origin as I am of the story’s exact words. Transcripts of the story can be found online; but this is how the story lives in my heart. Several years ago, I decided that if I ever had a column, I would tell this story every year in honor of Mr. Harvey and of the story it tells. Several have asked if it would be repeated this year.
Paul would begin by introducing us to a man who was by all measures a good fellow. A solid provider to his family, honest in his dealings with men, he just wasn’t much of a church goer. He didn’t believe in all the fuss that churches proclaimed at Christmas time – mangers and shepherds and wise men and such. He just could not swallow the part about Jesus being God coming to earth as a man. It didn’t make sense to him, and he couldn’t pretend otherwise.
His wife and children packed themselves into the family car to head to the midnight Christmas Eve service at church. They encouraged him to come with them, but he said he would feel too much like a hypocrite to attend. He would wait up for their return, sitting by the fire, reading the paper.
Just moments after the family drove away, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries – each seeming to get heavier and bigger as they crossed the panes of glass. The beauty was breath-taking, but the wind and blizzardy conditions made standing next to the window a cold proposition. He wandered his way to the fireside chair and began to read his paper.
Minutes later he heard a loud thumping sound. First one, then another, then another still. He thought some kids must be throwing snowballs at the house, so he stirred to go outside and chase them on their way. When he peered out the barely opened front door, he was startled to see a flock of birds huddled, coated with the frozen precipitation. They had been caught in the blustery conditions and in their desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through the large bay window.
He couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze to death. The old barn at the corner of the driveway would provide a warm shelter if he could somehow direct the birds to it. Quickly, he put on his heaviest coat and boots and made his way through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened both doors and turned on the lights. But the birds stayed flopping in the snow, almost oblivious to their salvation.
The man figured food would entice them, so he hurried back and grabbed a loaf of bread and sprinkled crumbs in the snow making a trail to the stable’s doors. To his dismay, the birds ignored the food and remained helplessly caught in the snow, except for an occasional brave one who would crash into the window pane. He tried to “shoo” them into the barn by walking around them, waving his arms like a bird and running to the barn. The birds scattered in every direction except to the lighted shelter.
He then realized that the birds were afraid of him. To them, he was a weird and awful creature. If only he could let them know that he was trying to help them, not hurt them. If only they could somehow know that he was to be trusted. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “I could speak to them in their language, I could lead them and they would follow the way they needed to go into the warm, safe ….”
At that moment, the church bells began to ring. The sound of the chimes reached his ears above the whistling, piercing sounds of the wind. And he fell to his knees in the snow.
The day God became a man – Immanuel – God with us.
— Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.