Owls are strange and mysterious birds. The shape of the head, with two forward facing eyes, make them appear almost human. They are very hard to see. For a start, they are not common birds, and of the British species, several are nocturnal. But, they are around; I once saw a Little Owl at Marsh Lane, eight miles form here. I caught a glimpse of a Barn Owl on land just off School Road, Hockley Heath. And I have got breeding Tawny Owls at the vicarage.
You might think that breeding birds so close by would be seen daily, but I have had only a handful of sightings over the last seven years. Tawny Owls are nocturnal and shy. However I have heard them many times. The adult male and female engage in a to whit and to woo dialogue. The baby owlets products a high pitched, plaintive squeak that makes you want to rush out and feed them a vole, if only to shut them up so that you can get some sleep. Tawny Owls roost during the daytime in cover, such as on tree trunks dense with ivy. If you hear a relentless cacophony of alarm calls from small birds such as Blackbirds, it can be because they have found a sleeping Tawny and they want to move this potential predator on.
Owls have a number of amazing abilities. Their sense of hearing means they can catch rodents when it is pitch black. Barn Owl’s feathers are designed to produce silent flight so that they can approach their prey unawares. And they can turn their heads 180 degrees. An owl’s body can face one way whilst their head faces in the opposite direction; they can look both ways. December is a time when Christians are encouraged to look both ways. We are looking back to Christ’s birth. We celebrate with great joy the time when Jesus left heaven and came to earth to be incarnated as a human being. Jesus came so that he could teach us how to be human. Jesus came to die in our place so that our sins can be forgiven and so that we can receive eternal life.
But as well as looking back to the incarnation, we are also looking forward to Christ’s return. His first time on earth was as a vulnerable baby; as a man his body was broken for us, his blood shed, as we remember each time we celebrate the Eucharist. But when Christ returns to earth again, it will be in glory. He will come in power to defeat all his enemies, to overthrow evil, and establish his eternal kingdom.
The apostle Paul sums this up in a single verse as he describes Holy Communion:
Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
(1 Corinthians 11:26)
We will not be celebrating Holy Communion in the age to come, we will no longer need the symbol because we will have the real thing, we will see Christ face to face.
So, during advent and Christmas, we are like the owls, looking back to the first coming of Christ, but also looking ahead with eager anticipation to his second coming.
I wish you all a joyful and peaceful Christmas.