They’d been adrift for days.
Plans, it seems, have their own unique way of crumbling, like the exterior of the B-17 bomber over the pacific. His name was Eddie Rickenbacker, and his mission was to deliver a message to General MacArthur who was somewhere in New Guinea.
But now, days later, he and his crew found themselves lost at sea, the wreckage of their plane claimed by the same waves that rocked them endlessly on the swells of the Pacific. Above them was only empty sky. By day they were baked by the suns penetrating rays, and at night the cold salt air raked through their clothes with unrelenting savagery.
Below them was only the curious enmity of the deep, revealed only through fleeting glimpses of fin and scale. And all across, in every direction the needle of the compass could only show them a vast expanse, a heaving desert, an emptiness that at all times threatened to swallow them whole.
And so on fragile life rafts the men could do little more than wait – for what they could never be sure. Perhaps a passing transport would, against impossible odds spot these men. At this point, even the enemy would bring a more welcome sight than another day of this inescapable void in which they had become enveloped.
But a needle in a haystack would be far more easily found than a small group of men adrift in the Pacific – a body of water inconceivably vast and cruelly indifferent to those trapped on her surface.
By the ninth day at sea, the listlessness of waiting had taken a dismal though unexpected turn. Depleted of rations, the small raft of men knew that there was little hope but to succumb to the cruelty of inevitability.
And so armed with only a small Bible, the men conducted an impromptu church service there in the raft, reading the words of the Savior: “Seek first the Kingdom,” all the while wondering if “all things” could ever be added to such a small speck in the ocean.
After the service, Rickenbacker leaned back to nap in the heat.
He awoke to feel a peculiar weight on his head. He could see the startled anticipation on the faces of his companions, leaving little doubt as to what had landed on the brim of his hat.
A sea gull.
A sea gull would mean food. Its meat could be eaten, and its innards could be used as bait to catch fish. Rickenbacker caught the gull that day, and between the bird and a passing rainstorm the men survived for a three more weeks before being rescued.
But the truth of the story is one that should give us pause.
Seagulls only come out to sea to die. And this gull had managed, in the middle of this vast ocean, to locate these needy survivors in the hour of their most desperate need.
Across the void, he found them. He crossed this void, to be a sacrifice for them. He brought with him nothing, but the hope of a second chance.
We are each, in our own way, adrift. We are cut off from land, from rescue, from those we love and from the comfort and stability of solid ground, condemned instead to the rise and fall of a world that tosses us about with cruel indifference.
But at Christmas we remember the miracle of the incarnation – when long lay the world in sin and error pining, God would cross that void to find each and every one of us: alone but far from abandoned, arms outstretched for rescue. And in the middle of this vast cosmic ocean, the Savior finds us, comes to us in our most desperate hour of need, and in His incomparable sacrifice we find provision for new life and new hope.
Across the void, he finds us. He crossed this void, to be a sacrifice for us. He brought with Him nothing, but the hope of a second chance. He appeared, and in a brief moment of time, like the pause before waking, our soul felt its worth.
This Christmas, my prayer is that each of us come to renewed understanding of this story, whispered to us amidst the cluttered noise of the season, and that we come to more fully understand the Savior, God with us, made more vividly real in our lives as we follow Him each day.
Grace and love to you all.