This morning, I was twice reminded of the frailty of life.
The first reminder came early. Just as the birds began to gather at the feeders outside our kitchen window, my mother-in-law, Helen, made a gruesome discovery. For whatever reason, a tufted titmouse, a small gray and white bird, had reached in through the side of a suet feed and gotten stuck. By the time we discovered it, it was already dead.
I went outside right away, wanting to be rid of the poor thing’s body as soon as possible. As I carefully lifted and pulled it back the way it had entered, I was overcome with a sinking feeling somewhere deep inside of me. I carefully wrapped its limp body and cleaned the feeder up the best I could. After disposing of it, I went back inside, got in the shower…and wept.
It seemed starkly unfair to me that a precious, beautiful creature should come to such an end.
A few hours later, I was reminded for the second time. This Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Fr. Trevor told the story of the Magi, from Matthew chapter 2, who traveled for two years to find the Christ child. These unnamed men were believed to have come from Persia or Babylon, at that time the known center of study of astrology and astronomy. Tradition gives us as names of the men Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. As they carried three named gifts…gold, frankincense and myrrh…it is assumed that there were three men, though scripture does not clarify the number in their party.
Gold was the tradition gift presented to a king…frankincense, a gift for a priest…and myrrh, a burial ointment. What a reminder it is each time I hear the story. While Mary and Joseph were still celebrating the birth of this child, the prophecy of his death was ever present.
The frailty of life never ceases to amaze me.
All of us have lost loved ones. All of us have mourned the death of those we hold closest to our hearts. We have wept, individually and as a nation at tragedies such as the recent school shooting or the events of September 11. Death is not a stranger to most of us…and yet its impact can leave us reeling. It’s not fair…it’s not logical…it’s not right.
Even at church…can we not just worship the Christ child without the thought of what was to come? Can’t we just adore the image of a child, swaddled and held by his young mother, Joseph standing close by to protect the two? Can’t we gaze in amazement at the sight of animals and shepherds kneeling around the stable or cave? Can’t we lift our voices and sing songs of Alleluia with the angels?
They aren’t separate…just as our lives here on earth, our death and our life afterwards are not separate. We are the same creation that God breathed life into. We will be the same when he calls us home. Oh, we may be rid of these earthly bodies, but are they what make us who we are to begin with?
Christ as a child cannot be separated from Christ, the savior, who went the cross, body broken and beaten. I was reminded of that image as I held the body of that little bird this morning. The images of paintings and drawings of Christ, taken from the cross after his death, his limp body held by his mother came to my mind.
The story of Christ’s birth has to be more than just the story of a baby being born. Even the circumstances, harsh as they may have been, can’t be enough. I mean, every life is a celebration and a reason to thank God. But remember whom we are talking about. Jesus Christ. We can’t just see this child…because without the cross, what would all the fuss be about anyway?
John 18:37 (NIV) ~ To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.