‘A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and his name is called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There is no end to his government and no end of peace.’
(i. Isaiah 9:6-7))
It is midwinter, and I wish I could be somewhere far away in the woodland where peace might be found. Maybe there I could escape all the rush of this season when too often everything centers on buying costly presents ... presents which sometimes have lost there original meaning. My heart is restless, if this season means peace, I cannot sense it ...
Night has broken, and the Lord’s day of rest has begun. But where is peace? I really wish I could be somewhere out in the woods. And while I look outside into a black winter night I wonder: “Father, why shouldn’t I do it? Why shouldn’t I go with You for a night walk into the woods?”
In the past few days rain has melted nearly all the snow, and it isn’t very cold. It’s very unlikely it will begin to snow. Therefore I really look forward to my walk. I quickly dress in warm clothes, and several minutes later I lock my door.
As soon as I leave the streetlights of the village behind me, the night wraps me in its dark-blue world. Through fields and meadows I walk into the silence. Trees line both sides of my path; their leafless branches draw a delicate pattern against the night sky, and every kind of tree has its own wonderful pattern-design. The forest looks from the distance like a black wall, but when I reach it I am able to distinguish the silhouettes of the single trees like black cutouts. As I enter the path between the trees, the forest seems to embrace me with a protecting coat, and silently and softly peace fills my heart – as gently as the breeze whispering in the branches.
“Father, it‘s your day of rest, and for many in the world it is a time of a special memory.” – A time which reminds mankind anew of his greatest miracle:
With humbleness the Creator of the universe embraced humanity as He became visible, lying in a manger. A Baby was born, unrecognized by the world, yet He was the almighty God leaving eternity to come to us. Most likely we will never understand it completely. His abundant love gave everything, gave himself, in order to unite heaven with the earth, and himself with us. He is the Prince who brought us peace. His feet touched our earth and the paths we have to walk, and his hands touched our hearts until they bore the marks of nails – and by this He wrote our names into the palms of his hands. We are forever with Him, He will be always with us, strongly connected with us. We shall rest in Him.
I draw a deep breath; again peace dwells in my heart. It is a peace his day of rest tells us of. And it’s already midnight, time to go home. While I leave the path between the lofty trees I think of the warmth of my wood stove, that will receive me at home, and of the scented candle that fills my room with the fragrance of roses ...
“See, how a Rose is blooming. It was Isaiah who foretold it, the Rose I have in mind.
To show God’s love a Saviour was born, when half spent was the night ...”
‘„Open my eyes so that I will see and know your wonderful truth.”
“Yes, I will show you the way. I will guide you with my eyes.“’
(i. Psalm 119,18; 32,8)
It’s a blue winter morning, and I drive through the city. The early sun is blinding me, so I turn down the sun visor, in addition the news in the radio I listen to distract my mind while I enter a main junction. Just in this very moment a car from the one side turns into my street, I have to brake quickly, wondering, why he acted with such little consideration and attention towards me! I never experienced such a strange behaviour ... But suddenly a terrible thought rushes through my mind. I look into the rear-view mirror, noticing that there is no sign at my lane that would give me the right of way! Great, this is really the first time ever, that I failed to give way to someone! That I feel embarrassed is an understatement, considering what I just thought of the poor driver in the other car. Most likely he thought the same of me. In his case he thought rightly so. And it all happened because the sun blinded me and I was distracted.
A little later, Father adds an explanation why this needed to happen: “If you think, that others get into your way, do not judge them too quickly! Maybe you are blinded and you do not realize that it is you getting in their way.”
I take a deep breath and answer: “Thank you Father, you are right.” So there was a deep teaching in this incident.
And I really admire Father’s patience in teaching us humans. I got to know that we need to hear or see something many times until we remember doing it in the right time. So Father patiently will lead us over the same ground again and again until we understood. But we shall not give up hope.
God had to open my eyes in order to show me: If I see what happened from the viewpoint of the other one, and with our Father’s viewpoint, things look pretty different. I may be not necessarily so totally wrong as in the case with the driver, my intentions may be the purest ones, or I plainly might not have thought of how things will effect the others I live with, but when I begin to view it all with their eyes and their background, it’s a whole new perspective and understanding.
And truly all of it is another one of Father’s very special teachings for me: If we try to see something with our Father’s eyes we begin to understand also Him and his Word better, as well as the people in our life. The Holy Spirit wants to open our eyes. It may be in happy moments that make you rejoice, it may be in a rather painful way ... but if we begin to understand it always gives us true freedom.
It makes me marvel how the Holy Spirit wants to show in addition: Everything that happens to us has a meaning in Father’s wonderful plan for our life. If we ask for the teaching He will teach us by everything that comes across our way, may it be something good, may it be hurting, it always has a meaning. And this is hope too. Nothing is senseless in his eyes, every minute is precious to Him, every small detail in our lives is a special tool in his loving hand to work on jewels to make them shine. May He ever more help us understand, and help us see with his eyes ... with his Father’s eyes. This is true hope and true understanding ... and true freedom.
‘He who brings out the host of stars gives strength to the weak.’
(i. Isaiah 40:26,29)
The sun disappeared beyond forests; peaceful silence surrounds me while the Lord’s Day of rest begins. Soft twilight conquers the landscape, the sky turns into a darker blue as I walk down an avenue. I leave the bare trees behind me; the air is cold and fresh. Snow covers meadows and fields like a blanket, and every step I do can be heard with a soft crunching sound. In the west above a castle and hills the horizon is still glowing golden-pink of the sunset. The first stars begin to twinkle in the east, while I wander through a landscape of snow, telling God of my cares and fears. I haven’t found the peace of the resting day yet, since still I wonder, how God can use a weak and feeble person like me ... The night deepens, and the stars multiply, until finally the whole sky is spread like a dark-blue velvet cloth covered with glittering silver-sand. In awe I stop, and watch the Orion. This star constellation reminds me of our Saviour and his promise, that He will return and take us home. It is said He will come from Orion.
I wonder what was it like two thousand years ago, and I envision Him sitting in a garden of olive trees under such a wonder-telling firmament, maybe looking up to Orion too, which twinkles so brightly in the sky. And He knows, when He will return one day He will return as a king. He notices a movement and turns his head around. A man comes up to Him and takes quietly place besides Him. Jesus recognizes this man. It is Nicodemus, a teacher and a highly honoured member of the council. And He knows also why Nicodemus is coming. He knows what is on Nicodemus’ mind. That man is so hungry for the truth, but because others would not understand him, and would look down on him, therefore he comes by night to seek the help of the true teacher. Jesus understands Nicodemus’ soul and his anxieties, his fears, even that he feels still ashamed of being watched in Jesus’ company. Compassionately Jesus tries to help him to overcome these fears. And far more, because of his love for that fearing and hiding soul He would now speak these touching words, which would conquer the world. While the soft light of the stars shines down on them, Jesus’ voice resounds through the silence of the night:
“Because God loved the world so much, He gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who trusts in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” ¹
Eternity’s Good Message, a hesitating heart, and a love that understands this heart. That Good Message and that Love rings past the whispering olive-trees into the glittering night-sky rings through countries and centuries on in all eternity. Words spoken because of a fearful soul, a soul He knows and loves so much. And He knows the hidden fears and doubts of our hearts too, and I can hear Him telling us:
“Lift your eyes and look at the stars.
The One who is mighty to create such an endless universe is strong for you,
and He hides your fears in his heart, that his courage may become yours.”
Still my eyes are watching the Orion. I am surrounded by a world of stars and heavens, and the silence of a snow-covered land. Alone, and yet not alone. He has heard my thoughts when I felt worthless and feeble, and He answered them with love, He gave me peace and rest. And I know, He will always hear our hearts ... yours and mine ...
‘No one can tear my sheep out of my hand.’
(i. John 10:28)
The night-sky is completely clear. I switch off the light. Just two candles illuminate the room with a warm twilight, their flames mirrored golden in the window. Wrapped in a blanket I sit down on my sofa and watch the velvet black sky outside. The twinkling stars look like little sheep resting as tiny dots of white on faraway heavenly pastures. While I enjoy the winter-sky, I have to think of Isaiah who wrote in the Bible:
‘Who has marked off the heavens by the span?
Lift up your eyes on high and see, who has created these stars?
The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name.
Because of the strength of his power, not one of them is missing
O bearer of good news, lift up your voice mightily, say,
“Behold, the Lord God will come with might.
His reward is with Him and his recompense before Him.
Like a shepherd He will tend his flock,
In his arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in his bosom.
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”’ ¹
Thoughtfully I rest my chin on my hand. He, who leads forth these hosts of stars on the sky outside, will gently lead his flock. And his reward is with Him and his recompense is before Him. It is said, that once God will give us our reward. But why is it expressed here, that HIS reward is with Him. I take my Bible, and in the warm-golden light of the candles I read again this text. And the picture that is described here I can almost envision before my inner eyes:
Jesus walks as a shepherd on a path between fields, carrying a newborn lamb in his bosom right at his heart, the flock of sheep and ewes is with Him, trotting trusting along with Him. The dust of the road rises, and embraces them in a cloud that glows in the evening-twilight, while the setting sun leaves a last golden shimmer on the treetops. Jesus and his flock are on their way home.
The lambs He carries with Him – are those possibly his reward, who is with Him? And the flock is with Him – is this his recompense? Could it be? Does it mean that He views us as his reward? If that is true, there has to exist another text in the Bible expressing the same thought. And sure enough! Just a few pages further on in the book of Isaiah is prophesied of Jesus:
‘When He makes himself an offering for sin, He shall see his offspring.
He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion, because He poured out his soul to death.’ ²
He shall see his offspring, his children; He shall see the fruits of his travail. He will receive his precious portion. – What a wonderful thought! God has a reward too! In his eyes we are his precious reward, a reward for all his toil, pain and suffering, for his work, for his labour. Truly this is good news and a joyful message which we can proclaim with a loud voice: Since listen, He did everything for you, you are his treasure, his reward. He carries you right at his heart! May this knowledge accompany you through life ... and through the rising dust-clouds in the last evening-light of the earth - since we are on our way home!... And may you take this precious thought with you for all the days of your life: You are at his heart!
¹ Is 40:12; 26; 9-11 (Nasb) ² Is 53:10-12 (Rsv)
‘Then will be inscribed on the bells of the horses: ‘Affiliated to the Lord’.
(i. Zechariah 14:20)
The winter rain has ceased. While I leave the sleeping village there is not even the slightest drizzle. Just some soft veils of clouds drift swiftly across the night sky. Among them an almost round moon hovers in a pale golden glow, spreading its gentle beams upon the landscape, bathing it in a tender light. Puddles of water catch that light, reflecting it like a mirror as I pass by. Reaching the woods I stand still for a moment. Here between the trees I once sat in the evening twilight, when I experience a period in my life which wasn’t an easy one. I sit down at the same place. The branches of the pine- trees with their long needles look like fluffy dark clouds on the sky, and from here I am still able to watch the moon above. Quietly I am listening to the sounds of the night. Water-drops are falling from the trees around me; the air smells fresh, moist, mixed with a somewhat warm scent of wet moss and wood-soil. In the silence I can hear a brook murmuring somewhere in the woods, and I know that even in this abandoned silence I am not alone; our heavenly Father is with me as He was when I sat here years ago. As faithfully and reliably the silver moon wanders its circuit in the clouds above like a witness as faithful and unchangeable is our Father and his covenant with us.
A gentle breeze comes up; it carries the sound of the bell right to me into the woods as the church clock in the village strikes the full hour.
In biblical times also the highest priest had little golden bells around the hem of his garment. And when he served in God’s Holy Temple the people outside in the temple-court were able to hear these little golden bells jingle. Jesus is called our true Highpriest, and we can hear Him in his heavenly Temple, since He speaks to us and guides us by the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, and by the voice of his Holy Scriptures, giving us the assurance that He is always there for us.
While I am lost in thoughts suddenly the Church bells begin to ring. Even though my village is a mile away, the sound is strong and full of melody; the echo resounds through the woods, and seems to float between the trees. Even though I cannot see the bells – as I can’t see Jesus yet – but who would doubt that the bells are there? Their sound reaches me even here in the darkness of the night. “Father, in the same way You are always with us. How can I reward what You do for me? You faithfully carry us human children – even through the darkest nights of our lives. And even though we cannot yet see You in your ‘heavenly Temple’, we can hear You here on our ‘earthly temple court’, since you speak to us through the sound of Your pure Word which resounds in our hearts, telling us, that you are near us. May the bells always remind us of that. And so I now come to You in thankfulness.”
The mighty sounds of the church-bells send their last echoes through the forest, until silence and peace reign again in the woods. Just a gentle breeze whispers silently in the trees, and caresses my cheeks. “Father, I love You.” And while I listen to the whispers of the wind, I almost think I can hear Father’s gentle voice in it answering, “I love you too.”
With a smile I look up to the night sky. The moon is still shimmering in veil-clouds – He is faithful. And I feel a peace inside of me which only God can give us. After a while I stand up. Walking home through the quiet night I still hear his voice in the sound of the bells deep down inside, how He says to you and me:
“I love you too, my child.”