I wonder if you have swallows nesting somewhere near your house. There is often an element of excitement at the sighting of the first swallow, swift or house martin. We were out with our eldest son and his girlfriend and with great excitement they spotted their first swallow for this year. Many birds migrate, they leave the nest, their home, travel long distances, and come back again to mate and lay eggs, some in exactly the same spot as the year before. Bempton Cliffs is a place we like to visit where you can see the gannets in their hundreds, returning to small narrow ridges and to the nests they made the year before which need touching up a bit.
The swallows are found on all continents except Antarctica with the largest diversity of species in Africa. They are found on many islands, as there are quite a few that migrate long distances. God has designed them with short bills, but with a wide mouth that has a strong jaw. This is useful in there hunt for insects which they catch on the wing. With their streamlined body and wings that are pointed, they are very manoeverable at great speeds. Their forked long tail, that has 12 feathers, helps them steer. British swallows winter across sub-Saharan Africa, as far as the Cape – a journey of more than 6,000 miles. They usually leave there in February or March, heading north to reach Europe a few weeks later, and arrive in the UK in late March or early April. There are other migratory birds are referred to in the bible.
Jeremiah 8:6-7New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 I have given heed and listened,
but they do not speak honestly;
no one repents of wickedness,
saying, “What have I done!”
All of them turn to their own course,
like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
7 Even the stork in the heavens
knows its times;
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane[a]
observe the time of their coming;
but my people do not know
the ordinance of the Lord.
Many migratory birds pass through the middle east and down through Palestine, and so the writer of Jeremiah may well have been familiar with them.
We have verses like the following from the psalms:
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young– Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. (Psalm 84:1-4 NKJV)
“Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove; My eyes look wistfully to the heights; O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security.”
We look forward to migratory birds returning, they come back.
In his book “The birds our teacher” John Stott uses the example of migratory birds to enhance our understanding of turning back to God. Of how we can deliberately follow our own way, our stubbornness, our freedom, to the point that we have lost touch with God. God is the home we need to get back to. The more we recognise that God is the true home of the human spirit, that we are waifs and strays without him, the more quickly and painfully we will become aware of even the smallest estrangment for him, and the more eagerly we will return to him. For when we have come back, we have come home. The migratory birds can be an image for us of our being distant from God, and so the need to turn again to God in repentance and to receive the forgiveness when we come back home.
God who designs bird to migrate from one continent to another
Yet returning to the same place to breed,
We can see that throughout of lives in the distant past
And in recent times, we have migrated from you.
We have not loved as we should
We have not loved ourselves
And we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We have allowed ourselves to be inward looking
And failing to see the opportunities for expressing
The love that you have shown us in Jesus.
Forgive us God
Receive us back into your nest
Reassure us of your constancy
As we migrate back into your household.
Janice Clark – Area Trustee Yorkshire North & East, Yorkshire West and Sheffield