An Excerpt from "With My Own Eyes" by Bo Giertz, translated by Bror Erickson

Reading Time: 4 mins

Today is Pastor Bo Giertz birthday. This is an excerpt from Bo Giertz’ novel, With My Own Eyes, translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2017).

Panting with eagerness and effort, they came up over the hill. They stumbled over the olive tree roots and crashed against the stones, but they held together, guided with the help of starlight peering through the clouds. They had learned the art of seeing in the black of night over the course of many nights spent searching for sheep that had broken through the thorn hedges or ewes that had been lost in the rocky desert.

Something different drove them tonight, something they had never before experienced the likes of. Just as their feet staggered over the stone blocks, so their thoughts tumbled about and the words stumbled from their lips when they spoke about it. It was too much all at once: the light that was clearer than day and yet not day, the glory that pierced right through them and made them feel like the vilest of sinners precisely because it was such an indescribable glory. And then he stood there and spoke with a voice that was like all the consolation of scripture, all the blessed promises taken together. He was as beautiful as the feet of he who bears good news when he comes over the mountains to proclaim the joyous message, full of the jubilee that bursts forth from the mountains when the Lord comforts his people and has compassion on the afflicted. He proclaimed to them the great- est joy of all on the earth: it was the Messiah who was born up there in the city of David. In the blink of an eye, the whole sky was filled with the praise of heavenly hosts buzzing and glittering as they sang. There was a radiance, a sound, and a glory that no words could describe.

But amidst the total incomprehension, there was one thing absolutely comprehensible. It was the sign that God had spoken of, the sign that he had given them as the seal of all of this. It was that which they were on the way to see now: the child that they would find, newly born, swaddled, and lying in a manger.

They had reached the steps that led up alongside the long stone wall. There was no longer any difficulty finding their way. Above the wall, there was a terrace with one of the many wheat fields that bordered the city. It was this field that Ruth had once gleaned, just as it was written in the scriptures and as every child in Bethlehem heard it told from their fathers. She was a Moabite, Ruth. And yet she became a mother in the line of King David! It was wonderful. The scriptures said that a circumcised male should never marry a foreign woman. But if the Messiah had been born this night from the descendants of David, then he was also of the impure and despised in the same way.

They were before the great open place outside the city’s northeast corner. The adjoining houses were dark and quiet before them. Alone in one of the hollows of rock, a little flame flickered from an oil lamp.

There was something unusual about the light. The shepherds knew the grotto well. They had driven their animals in and out through the opening countless times. Normally, the rocky crag gaped with darkness, and the door in the half-hewn stone wall was usually closed. Now it stood ajar, and light was filtering out through the gap.

Not until they stepped in under the stone vault did they get an explanation. There had been people living in the cave at night, apparently poor wayfarers who were pushed out from the shelter. They had lit an oil lamp that sat in the niche of the rock. The flame was hardly more than a pale drop of brilliance on the wick, but it was bright enough for the shepherds, whose eyes were accustomed to the night watch. In just a second, they had taken in the whole scene: the pale face of the woman leaning back against the straw and looking at them with kind eyes, the man straightening up the poor bundles he had been searching through as he stood, the animals in the corner looking at the light with huge dumb eyes, and then the child, the sign that they had been promised to see. Now he lay there before their own eyes.

They stood there on the earthen floor staring awkwardly. The little one was wrapped tightly in the swaddling cloth like all other children—a little newborn boy laid to rest in the stone manger hewn deep into the rock, on the left, under the stone ceiling.

The woman kept looking at them with the same confident and kind eyes. Then they began to stutter as they spoke. It sounded so strange. They could not say it. They felt as if they would be laughingstocks. But the woman nodded slowly, as if she understood them. They felt encouraged and spoke more boldly. A few strangers came. They seemed to be familiar with the man. They told them everything they had heard that night. They were no lon- ger shy. They had gotten their earnestness back. They read great amazement in the faces of others, amazement but not mockery. And the woman looked at them knowingly and kindly.

They felt so wonderfully at home here. The wet straw spilling on the floor, the smell of the animals and the cool night air—it was their own poor world. And in the midst of this poverty was the sight that had been promised to them. Amazed and happy, they stood at the manger with muffled voices and clumsy tenderness.

“Just like one of us,” the oldest of them said.

As they went back to their animals, passing between the great trees outside the cave, they came to think about something strange. They said that this was the place where Samuel kept the sacrificial feast with Jesse and his sons. Here he had poured oil over David’s head and anointed him as king. Here had been the beginning of the splendor of David’s house. And here also had been born this night the one who would be the last and greatest of all the rulers on David’s throne.

So they praised God and sang the song of the prophet Micah about Bethlehem Ephrathah, the song that every child in Bethlehem knew by heart. When their forced and hoarse voices came to the place where it is written, “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth,”1 They burst out in new praise. They rejoiced to have been so fortu- nate as to see what Isaiah had foretold: “Unto us a child has been born, unto us a son has been given.” And all the more, they praised God because he who would be called “Wonderful Councilor” and “Mighty God” had come just like one of them, just as poor and forgotten as the vilest of his brothers in Israel. 

This is an excerpt from Bo Giertz’ novel, With My Own Eyes, translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2017), pgs. 17-20.