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It is a milestone week for women by some people’s standards. This week the Augusta National Country Club admitted two women for the first time ever. The women were vetted, voted on, and offered admission. They said yes. Golf has not been an exclusively men’s game for decades as we in Daytona Beach welcomed the international headquarters of the LPGA more than 12 years ago. Over the years, women have gained the right to vote, the right to become an elder, an engineer, and a CEO. Many in the twenty-first century have gotten over the shock of women doing traditionally men’s jobs and men doing traditionally women’s jobs. Some dads take care of the children while some mothers earn the primary income. Some men are in fashion and some women are in auto racing – the gender lines continue to blur in the human race. But when it comes to the animal world, nature has set up some pretty immoveable guidelines. When it comes to some animals such as hens, elephants, cats, and cows, the female is virtually the exclusive caregiver. She nurses, and raises; she instructs and comforts. Although many of those tasks are traditionally seen as female, there are some males who do that nurturing role in the early years instead of the females. For example, in 2005 moviegoers were treated to the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman narrating the freezing but nurturing job the male emperor penguins have of warming and protecting the egg laid by his female mate, until it hatches. The film, March of the Penguins, opened the minds of viewers to the harsh climate of Antarctica, and to the instincts of male emperor penguins that seem to show qualities of devotion, faithfulness, and protection. Such qualities made me start to admire penguins the first time I saw it! All that they go through to have an egg hatch and babies start to grow! It is astounding! There are plenty of astounding cases of extraordinary parents in the animal world, coupled with painful examples of animals hurting or killing their own young such as when giant sea lion males may harm or kill their own sea lion pups. But most often we see the sacrifice that both animal and human parents make. As humans, those of you who have been parents might recall the sacrifices you have made or are making. For young parents like Chris and Amanda, there were certainly decisions to be made and a room to be transformed with disinfectants, paint, furniture, and pictures. Priorities had to change in their lives. Some parent transitions are sacrificial, and some are joyful. And each parent has to work out the new time demands their baby requires. It is natural.
In the communities around the Sea of Galilee when Jesus was born, parental roles were quite set: the mother took care of the house and most of the nurturing of her child. She saw to it that the children were fed, that they were taught manners and that, if they were girls, they were taught domestic skills. The mother was the primary nurturer all the way up to the arranged marriages of the day. The father was the provider, the bread winner, and protector. If he had a son, his job was to teach him his trade, how to be a protector, and a provider. The roles were quite clear.
Jesus had a uniquely complex arrangement with his parents: he had two parents who collaborated with a Heavenly Parent. So that the first century world could understand the nature of his relationship with the Holy One, Jesus called him Father. Yet even Jesus knew that God has nurturing, caring, and comforting qualities. Jesus, for one, exhibited them. He was comfortable conversing with women and he did so at least as much as with men. He welcomed children while most men of that era wanted to see them but not hear them. And he wept; not every man moves to that kind of tenderness. The passage read to day was one such occasion. As Jesus thought about what was about to happen to Jerusalem, his Godly heart could hardly take more: his omnipotent vision could see what was coming. And so he said as he saw the city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Jesus’ qualities are God’s qualities too! He was a man’s man when he needed to be. He had a mind for construction and the hands to be able to complete the work he planned. But he also loved little children; he felt bad for a little man named Zachaeus one day, and made a Samaritan woman at a well call him “Messiah” after just one conversation. Our Lord Jesus embodied the qualities of God; and God has qualities that cross gender lines. God, in a moment of holy musing at the beginning of recorded history, said something like this: “Hmmm; let’s make humans in our image; after our likeness. …” So we were created in God’s image; male and female God created us. God has qualities like a protector, a provider, and a trainer; but God also has qualities of tenderness, nurture, and care. Perhaps no other animal depicted in the Bible has pointed to God’s qualities as well as the eagle. The eagle is the centerpiece of one part of Isaiah’s comforting words in chap
ter 40. Scholars almost universally believe that Isaiah chapters 1- 39 were written to warn Jerusalem and the surrounding area that their unfaithfulness was causing God to allow Babylon to destroy their capital city. But in the next chapter, 40, that most people believe was written a generation later, natives are invited back to their city, their Temple, but everything was broken and in ruin. The spirit of the people would surely have been tested or gone. Like a family that returns to their home after a tornado, a hurricane, or a flood and finds it ruined, so Jerusalem was to those coming home. And to those trudging, trembling and tortured souls who sought to repent of their sins and turn back to God, Isaiah told them this: “The Lord does not faint or grow weary; the Lord’s understanding is unsearchable. The Lord gives power to the faint and increases strength….Those who wait for the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faith.” (Is. 40: 28-31). The eagle image there is one of renewal. One person, Kimberly Pardue put it well. She writes: “The eagle is a symbol used many times in Scripture- 39 times in fact….Eagles have a wingspan of 2 meters and are around 90 cm tall. The eagle mates for life and uses the same nest for life….When the babies are born, both parents assume responsibility for their care. They are gentle parents, sitting on the eggs for one month. The parents bring food up to the nest and feed them….At three months they get special feathers for flying and a new learning experience begins. The mother eagle flies into the nest and begins to thrash around causing a great commotion. Eventually one of the babies will fall out of the nest and will begin heading for the earth below. Never having used his wings before, he’s not really sure what to do but does a lot of flapping while headed straight down. Just before the baby eagle hits the ground, the mother eagle flies underneath in order to catch the baby on her powerful wings and she flies him safely back to the nest. This continues day after day until all the babies learn to fly. There are two verses in Scripture that actually mention this routine. In Deuteronomy 32: 10-11, Moses reminded the children of Israel how God cared for them and guarded them ‘just like an eagle that stirs ups its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings catching them’ God says that ‘He will carry the children of Israel on eagle’s wings.’” The qualities of pushing, prodding, testing, and then catching are good parent qualities, aren’t they? And they are Godly qualities too. They are eagle’s qualities; and that kind of care doesn’t just keep us safe in a nest; it pushes us to grow, to thrive, and to become mature. Eagles soar; but they would not get to maturity if not for the feeding and protection of their parents and the persistent pushing and catching before they fly. God is like the eagle; and we, in our best times, should emulate that strength, the guidance, and that nurture for our offspring. Finally, Psalm 91 is a Psalm of assurance. In it God is personified as that majestic of all birds: protecting, nurturing, watching. God is said to “cover us with those huge feathers and we will find protection under the wings.” What else will protect us? God’s faithfulness is our shield. Like a good parent, God does not just leave us in our nests, or in our cribs, or in our baby beds, or even in our rooms. God, like the eagle, nudges us, even pushes us to the maturity that we are born to have. It is good Godly guidance and it is good for parents to do as well. Today, even as we think about a baby, we also think about the father and mother. Where would they be if their parents hadn’t cheered and pushed them to adulthood? It is natural; it is right; and it is a celebration! God created you! How has God urged you to new responsibilities and joys? Babies eventually leave parental arms, to stand by the side of their mother or father, and eventually they may even tower over them! But the guidance they have received will not be forgotten! Thank you dear Lord; but thank you also to good parents, good grandparents, and good-great grandparents! Thanks be to God for life’s mentors, examples, and leaders.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 26, 2012