During the War Between the States, Henry Woodsworth Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” For Longfellow, the war was very personal. He was an abolitionist, and despite this, his son Charley joined the Union Army. Merely a year before, Longfellow had lost his wife in a tragic fire; she had accidently lit herself on fire. Now with his son in the war, before Christmas of 1863, Charley lost his leg in battle. Longfellow’s testimony in the poem was that hearing the bells of the church that day transformed him from despair to hope.
In 1990 Faith and I lived in Ft.Riley, Kansas. I was a Sergeant in the Signal Battalion. Desert Shield was already engaged, and Desert Storm was on the horizon. On December 22 of that year, we were deployed to the Persian Gulf. We arrived in Saudi Arabia on 25 DEC 1990.
There were no bells on Christmas Day. As Dorothy said, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Back in Kansas, families were unsettled. Hundreds moved in with loved ones, as did my wife and three young children. Our youngest was less than six months old.
I remember having to correct my son over some small infraction just before we loaded up on the bus to leave Ft.Riley. Two months later I spoke to him on the phone. He said, “I’ll be good, daddy.” He thought I had left because he misbehaved!
Getting off the plane, I was now in the cradle of civilization. Abraham had walked this land. Our savior was born, due west, about 1,000 miles.
So, this Christmas there would be no time with the family, no special dinner, no visions of wide eyed wonder in my children’s eyes. Daddy was called away for a mission.
When I consider that winter away from my family, it becomes a stark reminder of what the mission of Jesus was.
Philippians 2 describes how that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords humbled himself and became a man. “…who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as one with Him, possessing the fulness of all the divine attributes – the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself, [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of diving equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. Amplified Version.
He set aside his glory, and became a human. He left the splendor and glory of heaven to be incubated in His own creation, (the womb of Miriam his earthly mother). He went on to live a life of self denial, rejection, and ultimately to suffer at the hands of angry people, and even to die the worst kind of death; torture and crucifixion… and all to accomplish the mission!
The passage in Philippians goes on to say that “because he stooped so low… God has highly exalted Him.” The mission was accomplished. Hallelujah.
May I encourage you, this season? Perhaps it will be the first Christmas without family, or without your spouse. Perhaps 2020, 2021 have been rough for you, more than others. It may be that even harder times are ahead.
Take courage. God never wastes a hurt or an anxiety or any of life’s disappointments.
You and I can be “incarnated” like Mary/Miriam was with the wonderful word of God. This gives us great hope, that no matter what life may throw at us, He is WITH us, (Immanuel). He is IN us, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He is FOR us, “if God be for us, who can be against us?”
No matter how low it may go…God will exalt you in due time.
I came home in late April of 1991. My wife kissed me. My kids clung to me. We had a grand reunion, and many to come!