01 May, 2009

THE SWALLOWS OF CAPISTRANO

There’s a lovely little legend about these birds, the cliff swallows.

Every year on March 18th – Time has newsreel footage of this actually happening some years ago - the swallows return to the town of San Juan Capistrano in California. Many people flock to see the sight, apparently. A song has been written about this: ‘When the Swallows return to Capistrano.’

The previous day, the 17th, the scouts of the flock come sweeping in, then fly back out to sea. On the 18th itself, they come in clouds, to nest and breed. Then, on October 23rd, they fly up, circle the town, saying goodbye it seems, and then fly away.

One fascinating thing is that they are reputed to fly to Capistrano from Goya in Argentina, a distance of some 7000 miles! and back again. The migration does take place – that is a fact, and the legendary bit now follows:

The flight is mostly over water – and swallows can’t swim. They sleep on the wing, according to some accounts – but each one carries a twig in its mouth, and when fatigued, drop the twig into the water, and rest on it as it floats.

Whether the legend be true or not, the astonishing feats of bird navigation and migration defy belief. The star of this particular show must, I think, be the Arctic tern, which flies from its northern breeding grounds in the arctic, to the Antarctic (some 19,000 km) and back again every year!

A bit of imagination soon makes these feats quite unbelievable. Imagine flying at 500 - 2000 feet, clouds below, temperature low, not a landmark in sight, ploughing bravely on for 7000 miles in the case of the swallows, right down the western coast of the whole of South America. Finding food somehow, finding rest somehow, driven by some mysterious urge to do this marvellous thing.

Whatever the reason for these flights, they speak in the most powerful way imaginable of the Creator’s powers. That they should do this, heading for a destination they cannot see, with terrible problems they must meet, navigating only with a heavenly guide – it can be nothing else – they do it, unflinchingly, unquestioningly, and heroically.

And in so doing, remind us of the journeys people of God have undertaken because of their faith in the unseen and the unknowable. The birds have no choice – their instinct drives them relentlessly on, but Abraham had a choice – and he did as he was commanded.

In many ways, we have each done the same. We have embarked on a journey in complete faith. There was no way of knowing what the end is going to be – we only have the writings of those who have gone before us. We had, and have, no idea of the difficulties before us. But like those wonderful little birds, we go – not knowing whither we go. “Whither I go, ye cannot come” said the Lord. We follow our heavenly guide to a land far away, invisible to the natural eye, but with a Captain who knows the way, and assures us of success.

There’s no question that some of the birds die on the way. Some are blown off course, some are captured by predators. Some have not the strength for the journey. Some are sick, and some are sad – but they all go nonetheless. And yet, as the Lord says, “one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”

It is when we look carefully at what He did say, that we see the full beauty of the saying.
Mt 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

Lu 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
Notice: two are sold for a farthing, FIVE are sold for two farthings.

That should be FOUR, not five in strict mathematical terms. It’s the old ‘buy two, get one free’ deal. And yet, says the Lord, not one of them – not even the extra one that’s thrown in to sweeten the deal – is forgotten before God!

Is that not a most wonderful statement from The Son of God? And doesn't it make our task that little bit easier if we know this? Whatever our circumstances, He cares. And the only thing that will stop us reaching the promised Land is if we should join another flock, find another Captain, or forgetting our goal, head for other destinations.

Join with me in marvelling at these beautiful little creatures, who despite their small size, achieve such great things. Who by their faith in the unseen, discomfit the unbelievers, and may yet save some who take notice of these great facts in the natural world, from the burning.

The Great God of heaven and earth cares for you. He loves you. He calls you to higher flights and greater things. He points us to a land far, far away, but which draws nearer with every day that passes.

Isa.40. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.”

~ Credit to original author

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