I’m back at home, all the tests and papers finally behind me, free to enjoy Christmastime in Switzerland! As we’ve yet to get much snow here, I’m extra glad for last weekend in Sweden—it snowed nonstop from Friday night to Sunday night!
I arrived in Sweden at 3pm on Friday, just as the sun was setting.
My friend Alice has such lovely Christmas decorations! Seeing the lights in the windows and the candles on the table was especially nice considering how early it got dark.
On Saturday morning, we drove to a Christmas market. Seeing the snow, the old buildings, and all the lovely Swedish countryside was a wonderful start to the day.
Marie (Alice’s mom), Alice, me:
I could see the horizon!
Just like Narnia, no? The trees are so beautiful covered in snow.
The Christmas market was mostly inside this building, with little food stands outside. It smelled wonderful—pine, fresh snow, roasted nuts, spices . . .
I found this fascinating! Isn’t he a cute little goat?
We went back to Västerås for a late lunch of steak and fries. That was so delicious! Then we walked around the city a bit. The sidewalks were quite clear because they run warm water through the pipes underneath.
Sunday morning, we woke up to even more snow!
We hit the road to visit an old military stable turned public riding school. The grounds were incredible.
Aren’t these goats so cute?!
These are the stable grounds. There were two big stables of about fifty stalls each, and several indoor rings as well.
And then we walked over to the old castle. I love the yellow!
Often when driving around I found myself thinking of Iowa and Minnesota. This photo especially reminds me of Minnesota for some reason:
We went back for Swedish meatballs, a bit of shopping, a Sankta Lucia concert (a wonderful treat! What beautiful music!), and a real Swedish fika. When Alice was on exchange at NWU last year, we took a spring break trip to the Twin Cities together, where we had a fika at the American Swedish Institute. But of course, that was a Swedish-American fika; this was in a cute little place in downtown Västerås with all kinds of good things to eat and drink. The city lights were beautiful in the snow!
The next morning, we got to watch a glorious sunrise as we drove to Alice’s dad’s place.
And they have horses!!!
Seriously, they were too cute.
The look on the cows’ faces!
And that sky!
And then we went sleighing! I’ve ridden in wagons and such before, but never have I sleighed. All we could hear was the crunching of the snow under the sleigh and the snorting of the mare. One thing I’ve always appreciated about being outdoors with horses is how close I am to creation. Not only do I get to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, I get to enjoy these magnificent creatures as well! God’s creativity astounds me. All of the colours, the patterns, the smells . . . There’s really nothing quite like the smell of a good wind, pine trees, and a slightly warm horse. It was chilly but refreshing.
And then it was my turn to take the reins on the way home—the easy part! I basically just held them and the mare followed her own tracks back to the barn. We didn’t have a very straight path to follow though as she’d been a bit stubborn on the way out. So we zig-zagged our way back, watching the sinking sun and enjoying the muffled silence of snow.
In the midst of exams and the general craziness of life, I had been very much in need of some silence. There’s nothing quite like the muffling capabilities of snow; both the countryside and the city were delightfully peaceful. And after my terrible flights in September, it was nice to have short, pleasant flights to Sweden and back to remind me that being in the air doesn’t always have to be a nightmare.
At our church Christmas party yesterday, I watched the four candles flickering up front and reflected on all the candles Alice and her mom had in their homes. For some reason this year, John 1 keeps coming to my mind every time I see candles:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
So many things about this passage give me hope. For one, I have been made a child of God! Despite my many failings, despite the constant struggle with sin, that is something that will not change about who I am—I am God’s daughter. Then there’s God’s power over the darkness; “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” No matter how dark the world around me, that darkness will never be more powerful than the light that is Christ. Just as a candle casts light into a dark room, so Christ casts light into this world.
This Christmas season has been more than ever before a season of hope for me. This semester, I’ve seen God at work in my life in powerful ways, especially in how He has orchestrated this whole experience in Switzerland. I’m thankful for a God who doesn’t hide His face or His will from His children. And I’m incredibly thankful that He’s a Father who sanctifies us, making us more and more holy. It’s a process that’s often painful and sometimes frightening, but through it I bear fruit for God’s glory—and through it all, His perfect love casts out my fear.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
How amazing is it that the God who created the universe loves us? That’s the best hope of all—He has saved us because of His love for us, love which was and is and will always be completely unmerited:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Therefore, no matter what comes, I will trust my Heavenly Father to preserve me because of His love for me. Not that that’s easy: I just spent the past several hours questioning that truth, but I came back to finish this, and when I read John 1 again, I was reminded once again of the unfailing, steadfast faithfulness of my God and His love. I have confidence in Christ; in nothing else can I place my hope but in He who left His glory in the Father’s presence to be born a vulnerable baby, fully God and fully Man, a baby who lived a perfect life so that He could be the substitute for my sin, for our sin, for the sin of all who believe in His name. I’m looking forward to meeting Him when He returns. May this celebration of the first advent never fail to point us to the second, which is just as sure to come to pass as the first. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.