This spring, for weeks at a time, a mockingbird has sat in a birch tree outside our bedroom window, calling out for hours on end in the middle of the night, well before dawn. Blaring his latest remix of car alarms, ring tones and other birds from the neighborhood, he relentlessly calls out into the darkness until I eventually get out of bed, go downstairs and out our front door to shoo him away. It is extremely annoying. But it also got me thinking about the name of this ministry.

Studies show that mockingbird males, like other birds, sing to attract mates and to claim their territory. For mockingbirds, this round-the-clock courtship extends past the mating season and through the fall and into winter. Many birds will eat twice their body weight each day for enough energy to keep active and to raise their young, so why not get some rest for the big day tomorrow? Why would a bird spend so much energy singing while the rest of the world sleeps?

Biologist William Jordan’s theory is that mockingbirds are that much more protective and more prone to prove themselves through song. “The vigor and skill of your song gives a good idea of the vigor and skill of your body…The odds are that [he is] locked in musical combat for his family’s survival. And singing was the measure of his substance and grit.” Jordan goes on to say that mockingbirds “are not singing out of joy or pleasure as is commonly believed. Much of the time they sing out of desperation.”

So it is with our own beloved song. The German Lutheran reformer Philipp Melanchthon once said, “A man who preaches his beliefs precisely when he has lost them and is looking everywhere for them, and, on such occasions, his preaching is by no means at its worst.” This is how I often experience the gospel’s power, when I am most aware of my need for it. When I feel lost and alone, when the darkness encroaches, when I am desperate for relief. Once all of my alternatives have run dry, I return, with just a shred of faith, to the foot of the cross where I find the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine (this is my story, this is my song.)

Granted, the gospel does not need us to defend it — for if we keep silent even the very stones will cry out — but it is a song that defends us against the laws of our lives, the constant demand to be enough, to be holy, to be true. It is a song that sings through us when we lack substance and grit. Derek Webb’s own “Mockingbird” captures this hollowed-out, barely breathing faith with the opening lines: “There are days I don’t believe the words I say / Like a life that I’m not living / A song that I’m not singing but to you.” In our unbelief and desperation, the gospel imparts that which we lack.

The mockingbird has been gone for a few weeks and I can’t say that I miss him. But part of me wants to give him a little credit for keeping watch with “those who work or watch or weep this night.” I’ve certainly had nights when I could use his song as company. He may very well be singing out of desperation, but he simply can’t help himself, and what better way to praise his Savior all the night long but to tell us what he’s heard?