Who knew that a seven-inch tall owl could become a national symbol of resilience?
The lumberjacks who felled the 72-foot Norway spruce destined to become this year’s iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree somehow overlooked the presence of a northern saw-whet owl, one of the world’s tiniest avian predators.
The tree had been carefully wrapped and transported by truck almost 200 miles from upstate New York to Manhattan. Rockefeller (or “Rocky”) as the little bird was quickly named, had hunkered down inside a cavity near the base of the spruce. By the time one of the tree wranglers found her, she had gone multiple days without food or water.
That’s when Rocky got her biggest break. Her rescuer just happened to be married to wildlife rehabilitator Ellen Kalish, who runs the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center near Saugerties, New York.
“I almost dropped the phone,” Kalish said, when she discovered that Rocky was on her way to Ravensbeard. She wondered aloud, “How did this bird survive that trip?”
The little owl was, all things considered, in remarkably good condition. After taking some long drinks of water and polishing off some frozen mice, Rocky was on her way to a full recovery. In an emotional moment that became a viral video, Rocky was re-introduced into the wild three days ago – a symbol of hope during a truly challenging year.
No one can say for sure what Rocky thought of this great adventure.
What seems clear is that her personal Plan A – stay safe, secure, and well-fed within the branches of a towering Norway spruce – was suddenly and dramatically interrupted.
Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, points out that God is in the interruption business. Barnes suggests that all of our lives would be significantly improved if we cultivated a better Theology of Plan B.
On our way to some preferred destination – our very own Plan A – something disruptive happens. Now we have a choice: will we keep yearning for some version of Plan A that can never happen again, or will we allow the interruptions in our lives to open our eyes to what God is offering to us right now via Plan B?
Unless our own plans fail, and our own security systems are chopped down, most of us will live as if we really don’t need a Savior. Oh, we know we need a Savior to get us to heaven. But generally we presume we can work our way through the next day without divine intervention.
But then things begin to happen that rock our worlds.
At such moments we may feel abandoned by God. We may start seeing ourselves as victims. But becoming a victim is a choice – a choice to waste our suffering and to miss the opportunity to receive a new life.
Losing the life we have always counted on feels like death. But the death of Plan A is almost always the grounds for God’s next gift of grace.
Craig Barnes says something else that is quite profound. When we see our friends suffer, when their lives have been disrupted, our first instinct is usually to rush in and help them fix things. We want to be great friends. We want to help save them.
But it may be that our friends’ well-ordered lives are the very thing they most need to be saved from. Our real task is always to point each other to the One who will never fail.
It may feel as if someone is toppling the towering spruce we’ve been counting on – that everything is slipping through our fingers. But we can never slip through God’s fingers. If we trust that, we can make it through anything.
Chal Lundgren, a Christmas tree specialist in Oregon State University’s forestry department, has already begun to hear an interesting new question this year: “If we cut down our own family Christmas tree, is it possible we’ll find a stowaway owl?”
Probably not, says Lundgren, who in his 30-year career had never even heard of such a thing until Rockefeller showed up.
But it’s just possible that our Christmas trees this year can help us remember a vital truth:
Our Savior’s birth has always been worth celebrating because he alone provides the security we most need.