By: Rev. David Mansfield, retired Disciples of Christ pastor
I am afraid of heights and was especially so at age seven. This fear revealed itself one Saturday on the playground at Washington Park where my family and the Snyders went for a picnic. There was a huge sliding board there that looked to me to be three stories high, and its bright, shiny metal slide with a bump in the middle made children go at supersonic speeds.
Pam Snyder, the fearless six year old, wanted me to go down the slide with her. I would have nothing to do with it. So right there in public, for all to see, she put her thumbs in her armpits and flapped her arms like a chicken and said, “Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken! Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken!”
There are only three responses children can make to such mockery. One, you call them a chicken, or you shove them to the ground. The latter usually does not end well. Two, you run away, in which case you become the chicken. Three, you take on the challenge of the dare to prove yourself and your challenger wrong. (Turns out, I was the type two chicken.)
Tomorrow will be the first Sunday in Advent, a season of waiting expectantly for the coming of Jesus. When I read the Christmas story, there are a few characters who were not prepared for the Messiah. They did not want to look, engage, and believe. They make me want to put my thumbs in my armpits and say, “Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken.” The first of these characters was King Herod. The Magi came to him, seeking the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 NIV).
He was very intrigued since he ruled the roost, and there was no room in his chicken coop for a rival. He summoned “the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he asked them where the Messiah, the anointed one, was to be born” (Matthew 2:4).
They poured over the pages of their biblical scrolls and came up with the answer: Bethlehem. Herod sent off the Magi with a sinister request to locate the newborn king and notify him as to his whereabouts. When the Magi found the baby, they were overcome with joy and worshiped him. Later they realized through a dream to stay clear of Herod.
Herod was a chicken because he used the Magi to locate the new King, and the Magi made him the chicken by not returning to tell him the whereabouts of Jesus. Herod responded to being called a chicken by the first way: “No, I am not a chicken; you are,” and he arranged for the slaughter of innocent boys “two years old” and younger (2:16). So Herod is our first chicken in the Christmas story.
The next chickens in the Christmas story are the “chief priests and teachers of the law.” They knew what the scriptures said about the birth of the Messiah. They could quote the chapter and verse. Even though they had been waiting all of their lives for news of his arrival, they were too chicken to go and see for themselves. They represent the second way; they just ignored the challenge.
The third chicken in the Christmas story is Joseph. I know he is a saint in some religious traditions, but hear me out. Earlier in the narrative, he could not comprehend Mary’s story of Holy Spirt conception; who would! He was too chicken to take her word for it. So he made a plan to part with Mary as discreetly as possible.
But in a dream, God made it clear to him that Mary was a truth-teller and he had an important future with her. So Joseph represents the third way to respond to a challenge: prove your challenger wrong, and do it. Be the hero, face your fears, engage that which threatens you, and be curious about what you do not know. Put aside your fears, and look for him.
Advent is just such a time to anticipate his coming and to prepare your heart to receive him. So challenge your skepticism, and find out the truth for yourself. End your wavering unbelief, and commit to Jesus for a future that you could never imagine. Don’t be chicken!