Monday, December 14, 2009

Sparrows in the Snow

Last week, we were hit with a major snowstorm that closed all the schools and many businesses for two days. High winds and freezing temperatures made the roads hazardous, and the snow drifted over 4 feet in places. Since temperatures have been hanging out below 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, most of the snow remains.

I was washing dishes this morning and looking out our kitchen window at the snow that covered our yard and drifted up against our neighbors' fence. Then I spotted a commotion in our neighbors' yard—a huge flock of birds descending on the small bird feeder in their backyard. I'm not very good at identifying birds, especially at a distance, so I'm not sure what kind they were. Small and dark brown. The birds flitted en masse between the feeder and the fence, the feeder and the fence, as if they were moving on cue. Those that couldn't squeeze their way in at the feeder were pecking at the ground below for any morsels the sloppy birds above dropped. I noticed there was no snow below the feeder, and I'm not sure if it's because it drifted in such a way to leave a bare spot, or if our neighbors cleared the ground below for the birds. Either way, our neighbors are older and both disabled, and it probably was no easy task for them to trudge through the snow to fill the feeder.

Of course I immediately thought of the verse in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And also Matthew 10:29-31: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

God was providing for these little birds through the thoughtfulness of our neighbors. My thoughts then drifted, as they often do when contemplating the goodness of God, to a quandary-- a seeming exception. What about starving children, Lord? How many in the world will go hungry today? I have given, Lord. Should I give more? What more can I do? You could fix it so easily. It's not as simple as setting up “bird feeders” of sorts. Handing out food is good, but it's not always enough. It's drought, it's floods, it's disease—things within the natural world which are within Your control to direct and change. It's also politics, war, and bloodthirsty demagogues—things that are a direct result of sin, and while You don't promise to remove the consequences of sin, could you not spare more of the innocent? (I obviously was ignoring the parts in the passages exhorting me not to worry.)

I have no answers on this cold, wintry day. My family and I have shelter from the cold and plenty of food to eat. We have coats against the cold and a furnace that runs. We live in peace in a wealthy, stable country. We have access to medical care. We have a church that is free to meet without fear of repression. Relatively speaking, we are living in the lap of luxury in many respects. And yet so many in the world don't even have enough food for today.

As we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth, I realize more and more that stuffing ourselves with everything we set our eyes on and filling our houses with gifts upon gifts not only misses the true reason for Christmas, but it may even be offensive to our Savior. And while we all pay lip service to this sentiment, we still go out and buy the gifts, we still make the mountains of food, and we still run ourselves ragged all in the name of the “Christmas spirit.” Yet I think of our neighbors, who despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis, wanted to show kindness and compassion to some of God's creatures and did it in one of the few ways available to them. How much more can I give, to fill the feeder, to scatter the seed, and to spread the blessing to others this Christmas?

We've made it a habit to give to a ministry in honor of our family members in lieu of Christmas gifts. If you are looking for an excellent ministry to donate to, consider the Zimbabwe Emergency Relief Fund through TEAM. (My mother is a missionary in Zimbabwe with TEAM, so I know the money goes to help the people they are working with). Of course there are many wonderful charities and ministries that would be worthwhile places for your gifts.

"He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty. "

Mary's Magnificat, Luke 2:52

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