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Christmas Eve Story & Homily

Doris Weyl Feyling, Stoyrteller, sharing The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund

Rev. Cameron Partridge, Homily for Christmas Eve

We’ve heard and seen several stories already this evening. We heard the prophet Isaiah proclaiming that the people who walked in shadows of our world had seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2-5, 6-7). We heard a version of the story of Jesus’s birth from the gospel of Luke (2:1-14). We saw the creches of St. Aidan’s – the one right here in front of us as well as several we have in our homes [via video]. And now we’ve just heard a story wonderfully told by Doris, the Message of the Birds.[1] I’d like to add one more brief story to our collection this evening.

Earlier in the pandemic, when my family and I were going to school and work almost entirely from home, we tried to get out of the house to go for a walk every day. We didn’t always make it. Some days we just couldn’t pull it off. But when we did, we tended to walk in the early evening. We often passed a small grove of Eucalyptus trees a few blocks from our house. Around Easter of 2020, our kids noticed a distinctive shape in the lower branches of once of the trees: a gray oval with pointy ears. It was a great horned owl. I had never seen one live before outside a zoo. We knew they lived in our neighborhood because we could hear them late at night, calling to one another, but we had never seen them before. The owl was a great motivator: just about every evening once we first glimpsed it we would walk and look for it. And there it would sit, regally surveying its territory. Sometimes there would even be two. Sometimes they would soar above us and alight in other nearby trees. We came to realize they were guarding their nest because they had babies. Sometimes they would call to one another as we watched them. It was a wondrous sound. They looked and sounded holy to me, like angelic bird messengers heralding the presence of God. Not long after that, as I shared our experience with others at St. Aidan’s, I learned there was a Great Horned Owl’s nest in Glen Canyon. So shortly after last Easter my family and I went to see. I’d heard they were in a Eucalyptus tree, not unlike what was happening in our neighborhood, only in this case you could actually see the babies, we heard. But how would we find this tree among all the trees in the park, even if we knew it was a Eucalyptus? I voiced that question out loud to Kateri as we descended from Christopher Park, and she said, “maybe the people over there know something we don’t.” So I turned and looked, and lo, a cluster of people were gathered around the base of a tree looking up. They had cameras with zoom lenses. We walked toward them. And as we got close to the group and followed their example, behold, there was a nest with three or four small owls looking down at us. The shafts of light filtered through the branches, shining gloriously round about them. And we were inspired.

I love the message shared by the birds, and by the children in Doris’ story: let there be peace, peace on earth. In this moment, as we continue to make our way through this uncertain and fractious time, the message of deep, abiding, glorious peace is sung to us by all creation. This peace is much more than the presence of calm. It is more than the absence of division. It is more even than the mending of injustice. It is the very heart of God given to and for us. Envision this divine peace as the wings of an owl silently gliding through the air. Hear it in their glorious hooting, like the angelic host that calls back before the very throne of God, “holy, holy, holy God, heaven and earth are filled with your glory, hosanna in the highest.” This Christmas may we receive the deep peace of God, overflowing like the streams of water rushing down our neighborhood canyons. May we hear and see it in the message of the creatures in our midst. May we share that peace with one another, embracing the core of God’s dream for all creation. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, deep abiding peace. Amen.

[1] Kate Westerlund, The Message of the Birds, illustrated by Feridun Oral (Minedition, 2013)

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