December 10, 2023
Second Sunday of Advent
PEACE: The Message of the Birds (by Kate Westerlund)
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 / Mark 1:1-8
By show of hands, do we have any professional bird watchers in the congregation? I’m not a professional bird watcher, however, I do love to sit and watch the birds from my sunroom, and I have a handy set of binoculars on my table when I want to get a closer look. Sometimes I examine their colors and the way they zip back and forth across the yard.
What I can’t do from my sunroom is hear them chirp. I can’t hear them singing or talking back and forth without going outside to listen.
I’m going to talk a little bit more about birds in the Bible, but first, let me read our second book in our Storybook Advent, “The Message of the Birds,” by Kate Westerlund.
Birds are mentioned throughout the Bible, and serve as powerful symbols and metaphors for important ideas and values. From the dove as a symbol of peace to the eagle as a symbol of strength, these birds offer insights into our relationship with God, our connection to the natural world, and our own human nature. By exploring these stories and symbols, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the world around us, and a greater understanding of our place in it.
For example, in 1 Kings, ravens were commanded by God to bring food to Elijah while he was hiding from King Ahab. They bring him bread and meat in the morning and evening so he can survive in the wilderness.
God sent a raven and a dove to Noah while he was on the ark. In Genesis 8, it says, “After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.”
Then, later in Genesis 8, Noah sends out a dove to see if the floodwaters have receded. The dove flies back and forth finding no place to rest until the waters have dried up. On the third attempt, the dove returns with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating dry land.
The bird most mentioned in the Bible is the dove, being mentioned more than 50 times, and are used as symbols of peace, love, and the Holy Spirit. The dove’s significance has gained popularity as a symbol of peace and the presence of the divine.
In Matthew, the hen is used by Jesus as an image of a protector gathering her chicks under her wings describing his own desire to gather and protect the people of Jerusalem. He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Jeremiah says, “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD.”
Luke tells us to “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” We are to trust in God’s provision and care.
Eagles are used as symbols of strength, power, victory, and to represent God’s protection and care for his people. Remember in Isaiah, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Put your trust in God to have strength to rise above your troubles and soar like eagles, and be at peace.
Sparrows represent God’s care and also humility and meekness. Jesus speaks in Matthew of the sparrows who had little value, yet God cared for them, and will care for us even more than many sparrows. The Psalmist writes, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.” The sparrow is content to make its home in a small and humble place near the altar of God, a sacred and holy place.
So I love this story, “The Message of the Birds,” with the birds listening ever so intently from the rafters as the baby Jesus coos below them in his manger. But unlike adults who just hear cooing, the birds hear the message, a song, a special song of joy and goodwill. A song of blessing.
They hear the message ever so clearly and recognize its importance and the urgency to get the word out, just like John the Baptist, they scurry out to deliver this ever so important message.
And to whom do they carry the message? The children, the ones who listen with their hearts. The ones who are still filled with wonder and curiosity, so much so that they are willing to hear the special song the birds sing.
Hand in hand, all nationalities joined together, holding the light of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, they gather to listen, and they hear “Let there be peace. Peace on Earth!”
During this Advent season, have we closed our ears, or are we still waiting to hear the message, to hear the special song that brings joy and goodwill to all? Oh, how I long to hear it!!
Listen, “Let there be peace. Peace on Earth!”
Say it with me, “Let there be peace. Peace on Earth!”
*Cover Art by Unsplash; used with Subscription