For me, the goldfinch has become an icon of joy.
One morning last summer, on my way to work, I saw a broken goldfinch in the middle of the road at a busy intersection. A bright, crumpled patch of sunlight and feathers, it left behind a shadow that interposed itself between me and the loveliness of the morning.
It was a travesty. A broken bit of beauty about to be ground into the pavement by drivers completely oblivious to what was under their wheels.
I wanted to stop and move him to the grasses at the side of the road, where he could rest in peace… But stopping would make me late for work. Stopping would interrupt the flow of traffic and perhaps incite road rage. Stopping and getting out of my car in the middle of a busy intersection to pick up a dead bird would make me look and feel foolish. So I drove forward slowly to the stop sign, being sure I was squarely over the little bird so I would not be the one to pulverize him.
My heart was heavy. I kept re-thinking my decision to keep going. At the stop sign I looked in my rear-view mirror again. There were no cars behind me. I made up my mind to stop, be late for work and look and feel like a fool.
Nervously, I reversed the car. I put on my flashers and got out. Cars on the other side of the intersection began to queue up. Sure enough - I felt like a fool.
The broken bird looked so pitiful there in the middle of the road. I muttered a prayer - “Oh God!” I stooped to lift him gently from where he lay. Another car came - this time from behind me. The pressure and embarrassment intensified. But, just as I was about to scoop him up, the goldfinch flew away!
He had been stunned. He had flown into a vehicle, and been left for dead in the road! He sure LOOKED dead, with his head and wings all at strange angles!
Filled with joy, I got back into my car. I was no longer embarrassed or worried about being late. My heart was singing! I knew that I had not stopped in vain, because, if I hadn’t stooped, the goldfinch would have been run over by somebody else. I had come at just the right time.
At just the right time, God, going about God’s very important God-business, saw us broken on the highway. We were doomed to be crushed - unable to save ourselves. God stopped. Heedless of discomfort and humiliation, God stooped so that we might live.
Isaiah 35: 8-10 (NIV)
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.