Joyful Birds, Joyful People


It may well be a mistake to read literature for the sole purpose of finding literary gems. But it is no mistake—no mistake at all!—to gather these gems up when they reveal themselves to us.

Take for instance the following few sentences I recently came across from the naturalist John Muir (1838-1914). As he writes about Yosemite Valley in all of its immense greatness and grandeur, he takes time to note one little bird; the Water Ouzel.

The short, cold days of winter are also sweetened with the music and hopeful chatter of a considerable number of birds… First and best of all is the water-ouzel, a dainty, dusky little bird about the size of a robin, that sings in sweet fluty song all winter and all summer, in storms and calms, sunshine and shadow, haunting the rapids and waterfalls with marvelous constancy, building his nest in the cleft of a rock bathed in spray. He is not web-footed, yet he dives fearlessly into foaming rapids, seeming to take the greater delight the more boisterous the stream, always… cheerful and calm… All his gestures as he flits about amid the loud uproar of the falls bespeak the utmost simplicity and confidence…[1]

Forgive me if the connections I am about to make come across as ham-fisted, or sound bird-brained, but it seems to me that Muir’s description of the Water Ouzel should make it the patron-bird of all who trust in Jesus. Just consider some of its qualities:

It makes sweet song no matter whether it is cold and heat, no matter whether it is a time of upheaval or a time of peace, and no matter if it is daytime or night.

Its home is on rock.

It enjoys the constant spray of mist that comes from its greatest source of life – a living river.

It seems ill-equipped for the life it leads—and yet it boldly, confidently, and with ‘delight,’ dives into waters that should spell nothing but death for such a creature.

And now consider again the community of Christ, the gathering of the saints, the congregation of those who trust in Jesus.

They—you!—aren’t much to look at, but you sing a sweet song. We’ve always been a singing people. God’s people sang in the Old Testament. Then in the fields outside of Bethlehem an angel, followed by many more, appeared to some shepherds watching over their flocks in the night time and said, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.[2] And so we’ve been a people who have sung from the birth of Jesus to His death to His resurrection. Even now we sing as we live in His gifts, and await His second Advent—His second-coming. And our song is a song of Joy! For this is Good News of God single-handedly, and undeservedly, providing a Savior for all people!

His Life, His Promise

They—you!—have homes on solid rock. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes![3] And so you, too, go about your daily work with confidence for your life has been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ—His death, His resurrection, His life, His promises—for you! And it is certain because its rests on God and His accomplished works and not your own.

They—you!—enjoy life constantly in contact with life-giving water. After all, you are God’s baptized people![4] (Oh, and if you are not baptized, please know that this baptism is for you, too! Look me up, find a Christian pastor, or talk with a Christian friend. There is nothing keeping you from being baptized!) What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.[5] Jesus Himself tells us that He is, and gives, life-giving water![6] 

They—you!—live joyfully and boldly in the midst of circumstances and trials that you seem quite ill suited for. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.[7]

The Water Ouzel is a joyful bird. God has made it so in creation.

And you are a joyful people. God has made it so in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The joy of Jesus was proclaimed at Jesus’ birth. The joy of Jesus will again be proclaimed in Christian worship in the coming week. May the joy of Jesus—joy for all the world!—also be spoken from your lips to the ears of another in the holy days ahead!

[1] Muir, John, ‘The Yosemite,’ 1912, p77.
Luke 2:10-11, ESV
Matthew 21:42, ESV
Matthew 28:18-20, ESV
Luther’s Small Catechism on ‘Baptism’
John 4:7-14, ESV
1 Corinthians 4:7-11, ESV


Rev. David Rufner is pastor of New Hope Lutheran Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. His B.A. in Philosophy is from Concordia University - Chicago, and his M.Div. is from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis. Beyond the horizon of church, David (along with his wife Megan, and four children) enjoys cooking, sipping bourbon, reading, parties and life with neighbors, hiking, camping, and long road trips to lands where mountains loom and canyons yawn.

David RufnerDavid Rufner