He and his wife prayed that God would grant them a baby. Months turned into years, which turned into decades. Each year that went by, more of the same. No pregnancy. No baby. Just the quiet lives of two people growing old together. Eventually, they accepted that they would never experience the joy of holding a newborn child or hear the laughter of their grandchildren. Time had passed them by. God had not delivered
Imagine Zechariah’s shock when the angel announced the coming birth of his son.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:11-13)
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a baby, and now the prayer was answered.
More Impossible News
Unlike her cousin Elizabeth, Mary had not asked for a baby. She wasn’t even married. A young woman in Nazareth, engaged to Joseph—for her, babies would come with time, most likely. First the wedding, then the baby.
Imagine her shock when she got a similar announcement:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31)
Both Zechariah and Mary were confronted by an angel. Both heard the impossible news that a son was to be born. Zechariah and Mary were both troubled at the announcement, but the angel reassured them that their sons would be great and bring joy to many. They heard a similar announcement from the angel, but their reactions were not the same.
Two Different Responses
Although both Zechariah and Mary questioned the news they received, God heard different responses. One was the response of unbelief. The other, a response of faith.
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:18-20)
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35)
Zechariah questioned how God could perform something that was entirely contrary to the physical evidence. He was old. His wife was old. In light of the angel’s announcement, how could he “know this” and believe in the face of the facts?
Mary, on the other hand, didn’t ask how she could trust the message. Instead, she simply asked how God would accomplish this amazing feat given that she was still a virgin. Hers was a question rooted in faith.
Our Impossible Circumstances
In our lives, we face circumstances that look impossible. A broken marriage after years of trying to make it work. A lost child that you’ve prayed for without ceasing. A rising mountain of bills and a shrinking or empty bank account. All the physical evidence may suggest that no solution is forthcoming. The hurts are too deep, the loss too great, the debt too high. Maybe, like Zechariah, you’re convinced that time has passed you by.
While we can’t see the hearts of Mary or Zechariah, God knew that Zechariah’s question told of his unbelief, and God answered the question accordingly. God also knew that Mary’s question was a question of faith. She recognized God’s will, and asked how God was going to bring it to pass—a legitimate question.
Mary trusted God with her future. The coming Messiah was the answer to a long awaited promise of salvation and deliverance, and though she didn’t know exactly how God would accomplish the birth of her baby, she trusted that would do what he said he’d do.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:37-38)
The Reason We Trust
The same Messiah brings us the promise of salvation today. We don’t know how God can accomplish his will in and around us, but we know that nothing will be impossible with God. We can trust the Messiah to save us from the penalty of our sin by his death on the cross. We can trust him to save us from the power of sin as he intercedes for us with the Father. And one day he’ll save us from the very presence of sin when he takes us to home . Like Mary, we can trust God with our future and respond, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
So which response will you choose? Will it be Zechariah’s response, as you point to physical evidence and ask how you can be expected to believe God, given the facts? Or will you choose Mary’s response, and simply ask how God will accomplish his will?
This Christmas, let’s choose the faith of Mary, for nothing will be impossible with God.
 Chafer, Lewis Sperry, 1917, Salvation, The Bible Institute Colportage Association. Photo Credit: Lightstock]
This post was first published during December 2016. –ed.
Christmas signifies Christ’s entry into humanity. It’s wonderful to ponder the birth scene in Bethlehem and marvel at the fact that God tabernacled among men (John 1:14). But we need to remember that was His first coming. The obscure and humble surroundings that accompanied His earthly arrival will one day be overshadowed by His second glorious coming.
In his sermon “Christmas Future,” John MacArthur says that “the first coming of Christ was a veiled coming.” Consequently, he argues that if we are to really understand the identity of the baby in the manger then we need to gaze on His unveiled majesty as displayed in the book of Revelation. “‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’ That’s what the book is. It is the unveiling . . . of the Son of God. So this is Christmas future, not the view so common as His first coming, but the full view of an unveiled Christ.”
John begins the message by setting forth a powerful juxtaposition between Christ’s first and second comings:
The first time He came, a star marked His arrival. The next time He comes, all the stars of heaven will fall, and the whole of heaven will collapse. The first time He came, wise men and shepherds brought Him gifts. The next time He comes, He will bring the gifts: the rewards for His people. The first time He came, there was no room for Him in a small inn. The next time He comes, His glory will fill the entire earth. The first time He came, just a few attended His arrival. The next time He comes, every eye will see Him. The first time He came as a helpless baby. The second time, He comes as the sovereign king and judge over all.
From there, Pastor John proceeds to deliver a powerful apocalyptic encounter with the glorified Christ. Moving sequentially through the entire book of Revelation, he points out the many titles and offices that belong exclusively to our Lord. At times I found it overwhelming to try and contemplate just some of the truths lifted from Scripture’s final book.
“Christmas Future” is a sermon that provides the listener with a much needed lens—a lens for viewing the Christmas story in its proper perspective. It pulls back the veil of God made flesh to reveal His full and glorious identity as the Creator and Judge of the universe. May our conversations this Christmas be informed and energized by that reality.
Of all the folk tales, pageants, legends, and fables to accompany the Christmas season, few have achieved the level of immortality of The Nutcracker, from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story to its reimagining in Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
Like Dickens’s A Christmas Carol or Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, we can recall The Nutcracker as if by rote: a curious girl on Christmas Eve, an enchanted Nutcracker who springs to life and battles the evil Mouse King, a whimsical land of marzipan castles and Christmas forests. We know the tale, but have we ever asked why we know it? For that, we must venture into its origins.
When Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffmann conceived The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in 1816, he envisioned his tale as a counterpoint to the prevailing Enlightenment dogma that insisted upon rationalism and reason over imagination. A product of German romanticism, Hoffmann “believed strongly that the imagination was being attacked by the rise of rationalism,” according to University of Minnesota professor Jack Zipes, and therefore dedicated himself to “another way of looking at the world, and to reclaiming nature, reclaiming innocence, reclaiming an authentic way of living.”
In the simplest summation, German Romantics were nostalgists, most of whom respected the Medieval foundations upon which Western civilization was built. Rather than divorce themselves from the past — as the Robespierrean French so violently demonstrated — the Romantics harnessed the past as a wellspring for inspiration to better unify an increasingly atomized culture in a post-Reformation society. They insisted on tales of courtly love, the triumph of Humanität (true humanity), the validation of passion, and the prevailing of virtue over vice.
To the Romantics, art could not be probed for deconstruction, it could not be commodified, it could not be “put on the rack and tortured for her secrets,” as the Renaissance philosopher Francis Bacon would have it. The Romantics saw art as a leisurely affair, a divinely-inspired process wherein God channels the artist as a vessel for unspoken Truths. From the Romantics, the West received some of its most treasured works of post-Enlightenment art: the Grimm fairy tale anthologies, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.
That Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker would survive over 200 years of history, including two World Wars and the rise of Communism, to become synonymous with Christmas, speaks to its unique power as a romantic work of fantasy. Most cultural critics and historians would be quick to credit Tchaikovsky’s majestic suite for this brush with immortality, and while that remains undisputed, it must not be forgotten that Hoffmann’s tale spawned a legacy of such power it captured the imagination of not one but two artistic titans: French author Alexandre Dumas and Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Nearly three decades after its publication, Dumas recrafted Hoffmann’s tale in his own image – The Tale of the Nutcracker (1844) – retaining Hoffmann’s basic plot with only a few minor differences. Tchaikovsky would later use Dumas’ recreation as the basis for his ballet’s libretto, stripping the story down into what amounts to little more than a young girl’s dream. Undoubtedly, without Tchaikovsky’s music, Hoffmann’s tale of wonder would be little more than a curiosity for German literary scholars rather than the cultural powerhouse as we understand it today. Strange as it may seem, Hoffmann would probably relish the knowledge of music becoming the fount from which his work received eternal life. For in his famous review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Hoffmann declared that music “reveals an unknown kingdom to mankind: a world that has nothing in common with the outward, material world that surrounds it, and in which we leave behind all predetermined conceptual feelings in order to give ourselves up to the inexpressible.”
As critic Robert Kilborn so eloquently noted, “Hoffmann’s novella captures a stranger and darker world than the Alexandre Dumas, père, adaption from which the ballet is derived. What in the story is a very real transformation and liberation, in the ballet becomes a lighthearted dream. But the music carries the message intact.”
With that, we must ask ourselves: what stood at the heart of Hoffmann’s work that spawned this ongoing saga of fascination that still resonates, even to today? I suspect it stems from the marriage of Hoffmann’s fiercely defiant romanticism with the season of Christmas, creating an ethos radiating within its metaphysical DNA that captivates our subconscious.
For what is Christmas if not Western civilization’s last vestige of collective leisure — the one season in which we set aside all notions of structure and utility to partake in the anticipation and celebration of Christ’s birth, and as with all celebrations, there are pageants to be attended, gifts to be offered, games to be played, tales to be told, songs to be sung, and fellowships to be nurtured. A parade of useless engagements, quantifiable only by their economic proficiency. We string up lights, not for their luminosity, but so the darkness will be luminous. We display decorations, not for their distinction, but so our homes will be distinct. We indulge in feasts, not for their nourishment, but so our hearts will be nourished. Tradition reigns over trend, Truth over fact, quality over quantity.
Original 1853 Woodcut Illustration
Consider, for example, how this reflects in the arc of Hoffmann’s protagonist, Marie Stahlbahm (Clara as she is known in the ballet). On Christmas Eve, her father entrusts to her a Nutcracker after she expresses her fondness for it. “Since, dear Marie, you love Friend Nutcracker so much, you must shield and shelter him,” he tells her.
Marie takes this to heart, treating the Nutcracker with tender care, cracking in him only the “smallest nuts” for fear of breaking his fragile jaw. For reasons unexplained, she feels an affinity for the Nutcracker, seeing within him a hidden value beyond her understanding. Her brother, Fritz, on the other hand, sees the Nutcracker as merely a tool, a functionary to be wielded for his own amusement, shoving the “biggest and hardest” nuts into the toy’s mouth until his “whole lower jaw turned loose and wobbly.”
“Oh, my poor dear Nutcracker!” Marie cries out in seeing her defective friend.
Now notice what Hoffmann has Fritz say in response: “He’s a stupid, simple-minded guy! He wants to be a Nutcracker, but he has no decent teeth. He probably doesn’t understand his own work. Hand him over, Marie! He has to chew up nuts for me, even if he loses his remaining teeth – even his entire jaw in the bargain.”
Original 1853 Woodcut Illustration
Marie represents the Romantic while Fritz represents the utilitarian, a materialist with no care or insight for anything’s intrinsic value. He is the factory owner who works his employees to the bone, the general who marches his soldiers into a massacre, the king who taxes his peasants into poverty.
These two worldviews, ever-present in Hoffmann’s mind, clash throughout the story as Marie struggles to realize that the Nutcracker may indeed be alive. She sees him perform wondrous deeds, commanding an army and waging war against the seven-headed Mouse King. She learns of his woeful origins; his ugly appearance a curse from a broken promise. She absconds to his magical kingdom of sprawling treats and Christmas forests. Were these actual experiences or merely a fever dream? She wrestles in this conundrum, her family questioning her sanity at every turn, pleading she see the Nutcracker for his inanimate simplicity. She resists, and only when she chooses to love the Nutcracker for his intrinsic worth does she come to know the truth of his existence and win her eternal reward as queen of his magical kingdom.
Hoffmann closes his story with a telling line: “Marie supposedly is still queen of a land you can see sparkling Christmas Forests everywhere as well as translucent Marzipan Castles — in short, the most splendid and most wondrous things, if only you have the right eyes to see them with.”
Original 1853 Woodcut Illustration
Like a true Romantic, Hoffmann invites us to see the world through Marie’s eyes, discovering a hidden world of meaning beyond facades and machinations, a world filled with the “most splendid and most wondrous things.”
We struggle with this every Christmas, experiencing the season in two realities: the physical, living reality of our worldly existence and the fanciful, majestic reality of our imagination — a decadent, uncorrupted dreamworld of light, wonder, and warmth, untouched by the banality of time. We envision a Christmas marked by precious moments and miraculous happenings only to experience a Christmas firmly grounded in the practical demands of daily living. For every candy cane and silver lane that glows, we get icy roads, depleted bank accounts, crowded parking lots, and year-end fiscal deadlines. We dream of Christmas, living in its promise, anticipating what it brings, yearning to experience it all again while wondering if we ever experienced it all.
Only when we choose to believe in the dream’s reality does Christmas truly come alive.
Lots of pastors will read the Christmas story in church this Sunday. Some of them will come up with pretty little placebos for our time of pandemics, lockdowns and government-imposed emergencies. But Christmas, above all, is a story of faith in God for something far larger than what we can see in front of us. This kind of seeing requires eyes of faith.
Perhaps you are like me and have heard the expression “faith in God” your whole life. But what does that actually mean? Does it mean that we believe God exists? So do the demons. Does it mean that we believe that Jesus came to the earth and died in our place, to pay a debt we could not pay, and in so doing restored our relationship with God (our Father) and gave us eternal life? Does it mean that Jesus’ death and resurrection restored all that humanity had before the Fall in the Garden of Eden? Or is Jesus just a nice idea that sells presents every year (even if they will be delivered late this year)?
Here’s an interesting Christmas story for our moment in time from the book of Matthew. It’s not the one you will hear this Sunday. But here it is, anyway:
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27 NIV)
The disciples in that fishing boat had a certain amount of faith, because they believed that if they could wake up Jesus, he could fix their problem. He did fix their problem, but not before he rebuked them for their lack of faith. But why?
There is a furious storm going on in the earth this Christmas. There will be a multitude of prayers offered in our churches this Sunday, asking Jesus to calm the storm going on in the earth right now. We’d like everything to be the way it was, before the storm started. Our lives may not have been perfect, but they were predictable. Our government seemed to function, even if we didn’t always like what it did. But the pandemic of fear has changed all that. Do you ever hear God asking, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Is it or is it not a valid question? Predictability is not something God cares much about. If you have foreknowledge (knowledge of the future) as God does, why would you need predictability?
Maybe we’re at the point in human history where God wants things to be different, but we want them to be the way they always were. What if God actually wants everything to be different? What if we are between acts in the play and He is rearranging the stage? What if God is not satisfied with our nebulous “faith in God,” but he wants men and women who follow Him closely enough to hear him express his hopes and dreams for the world and for humanity? What if our “faith in God” is actually obscuring what God is doing right now?
Maybe faith in God goes deeper than simply believing that He is (exists). Maybe faith in God means hearing his voice and listening for what He wants us to do. Does God actually speak to us? Is prayer a two-way conversation, or do we present our petitions and then rush out of His presence? Do we dare to stay in His presence, confident that Jesus’ death and resurrection those 33 years after his birth changed everything?
As the Apostle Peter (more eloquently) observed, time is not the same for God as it is for us. The Bible makes clear that we are all eternal, and also that we face very different eternities, based on our reaction to the plumb-line of Jesus Christ that was dropped in Nazareth some 2,000 years ago.
Maybe God is tired of being bought off by our check in the collection plate every Sunday. Maybe He is even now rearranging the furniture for the final act, and he wants those who are able to hear him to become part of the final act for humanity. Remember, no matter how far you go with God, there’s always more. We will never understand him, but he never asked for our understanding. He asks for our love. Merry Christmas.
There is a passage from a book called “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping” by Judith Levine. Disgusted with what she sees as a consumer culture in New York City, this progressive author and her “partner” embarked on a year-long project to buy nothing but necessities. I find it an interesting (if cynical) read.
But one particular passage always leaps out at me. While taking a late-evening walk on Christmas Eve to visit some friends, the author (an atheist) and her partner spontaneously slip into the back of a small church during the candlelit service. To her surprise, Ms. Levine finds herself weeping. “[P]erhaps I weep in envy of faith,” she writes. “The comfort of knowing anything without skepticism. An atheist never really comes in from the cold.”
The aching pathos of those words haunted me from the first time I read them. They are a naked glimpse into an atheist’s soul. She’s right, of course. An atheist never really does come in from the cold. This realization seems especially poignant at Christmas when so many people are rejoicing.
The Bible references celebrations all the time. Jesus’ first recorded miracle took place at a celebration (the wedding at Cana). But in all cases Scripture makes it clear these celebrations have a point, a purpose. And the purpose in each of these celebrations is to honor a guest, whether it’s a king or a bridegroom or a foreign diplomat or a passing visitor or a Messiah in a manger.
A feast without a guest of honor is meaningless, like a wedding without a bridegroom. It’s merely an exercise in gluttony and excess. Overindulgence is kind of fun, to be sure, but don’t mistake “fun” with “meaningful,” because they’re not the same thing.
Christmas, of course, celebrates the ultimate Guest of Honor. Everything we do – sing carols, give gifts, smile at strangers, donate to charity, decorate our homes, build gingerbread houses, see “The Nutcracker,” sing Handel’s “Messiah” as a flash mob in a mall – all these things consciously or unconsciously celebrate the birth of a very special baby, the ultimate Honored Guest.
When unbelievers feel a keen ache from their lack of belief – as is written in the passage above – it’s because they’ve caught a glimpse of that Honored Guest but know they won’t meet him. Or more precisely, they refuse to meet him. They deny He exists. They cannot or will not take the opportunity to say hello, and in doing so they miss out on unbelievable richness and joy.
They also miss out on the biggest gifts of all: forgiveness, grace, salvation and eternal life. These are the ultimate gifts that keep on giving. Nothing purchased from the mall can ever equal them in value.
It’s an interesting development to watch those who don’t like the Honored Guest do everything in their power to make sure others won’t ever catch a glimpse of Him either. They’re grudgingly willing to permit a celebration (“winter parties”), but they insist on making it a party without a point (a wedding without a groom? a book without a plot? a song without a melody? a birthday party without a birthday?). They simply cannot swallow the idea that most people celebrate for a reason. We instinctively recognize there should be an honored guest at a party. We understand that a celebration without a point is, well, pointless.
Atheists can fill their lives with material goods. They can fill their lives with love for their spouse and kids. They can fill their lives with good works and charity. But there will always be an emptiness inside them, that classic God-shaped hole in their heart, whether or not they’re willing to admit it. And the thing is, it’s so easy to fill that hole.
But unbelievers resist. They stay out in the cold, pressing their noses against the windowpane and seeing inside a room filled with warmth and light and joy. Even though entrance is free and their presence would be warmly welcomed, they prefer to stay outside and ridicule those who choose to go in and enjoy the party.
The key point so many unbelievers miss is that faith seldom comes in a blinding road-to-Damascus flash. Rather, it takes time and practice. I would never hand you a violin and shove you unprepared in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall – the experience would traumatize you and make you hate violins and fear performances.
But years of steady practice would overcome that fear and hatred. Practice allows you to squeak and screech and make mistakes and get discouraged in private. But you’ll improve. You may never perform at Carnegie Hall, but you might share the joy of your violin music with family and friends.
For most people, a belief and faith in God also takes time and practice. A lot of atheists were, sometime in their past, shoved onto the stage at Carnegie Hall unprepared (so to speak). The experience traumatized them. They learned to hate God and loathe religion.
As a result, many never practice believing. They never attend church. They never read the Bible. They never talk to anyone whose gentle guidance might help them ease that fear and loathing and discover the joy of faith. It’s not hard to accept faith as a little child at first. Children don’t comprehend their gifts, they just accept them. Comprehension – faith – comes later.
And so, unbelievers stay out in the cold, hating God and rejecting His gifts. Since the magnitude of those gifts cannot be grasped, understood, or appreciated until they’re accepted, unbelievers continue to scorn them as unnecessary. They tell people who have already accepted those gifts that they’re weak, ignorant and wrong. Some even take those gifts and spit on them before throwing them away.
And that’s sad, achingly sad … because the gifts available at the celebration are fabulous. They’re greater than us, greater than everything. They’re also available to everyone, regardless of whether someone accepts them or not.
Thankfully, unbelievers are welcome to join the party anytime. They’re welcome to help themselves to the gifts anytime. They’re welcome to meet the Honored Guest anytime. There are a lot of freebies out there, available for the taking. Anytime.
So for anyone who hasn’t yet come in out of the cold, for Pete’s sake open the door and come inside! There are gifts aplenty. I think you’ll find that party is a whole lot more fun when it has a purpose – and when you get to know that Honored Guest.
I wish you all, believers and unbelievers alike, a blessed and gift-filled Christmas. Come and join the celebration. Come in from the cold.
December 1776 was one of the darkest times for America: hyperinflation gripped the economy, Washington’s army lost one battle after another, the mood of the country changed from optimism to defeat. But on Christmas Day, Americans amid a raging Nor’easter crossed an impassable ice-filled river, surprised and killed an expertly trained enemy, and changed the course of history.
Thomas Paine epically captured the days leading up to Christmas 1776 in “The American Crisis.”
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Washington’s army had lost one battle after another. The economy had tanked. And the paper money the United States printed seemed worthless. Americans were abandoning the cause in droves.
During the fall of 1776, the British issued an amnesty proclamation that offered pardon and protection to rebels who signed an oath of loyalty to the king within sixty days. Thousands of Americans, including several members of Congress, clambered to sign the oath. One disgusted American Patriot recalled, “To the disgrace of the country and human nature, great numbers flocked to confess their political sins to the representative of Majesty, and to obtain pardon. It was observed, that these consisted of the very rich and the very poor, while the middling class held their constancy.” Making matters worse, the enlistments for the Continental Army expired in December and January 1, 1777.
Most Americans could read, and the pamphlet immediately raised the morale of both the military and civilians. The looming prospect of disaster seemed to spur Americans into action, and some even believed that such a crisis was necessary to give people the proper motivation to fight. “Our republic cannot exist long in prosperity,” Doctor Benjamin Rush later wrote in a letter to John Adams. “We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” The crisis had a direct positive effect that steeled resolve. That December 245 years ago marked a period where Americans from all stripes came together to alter the course of history in a great counteroffensive on Christmas night.
On the eve of the battle, General George Washington sat in his tent on the banks of the Delaware River and methodically wrote the same three words over and over on several small pieces of paper. He had decided on a daring plan: crossing the ice-choked Delaware River and mounting a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison there. Knowing that the assault could not hope to succeed if word of the plan reached the enemy, he detailed a Virginia The to serve as sentries around the Patriot camp. The general himself selected the password for the night, and that was what he was writing on scraps of paper for distribution to the unit commanders.
While the surgeon general of the Continental Army was visiting Washington, one of the slips happened to fall to the floor. “I was struck with the inscription on it,” the physician wrote. “It was ‘Victory or Death.’”
Contrary to the myth perpetuated by many children’s books, the Hessians in Trenton were neither drunk nor idle. Their experienced commander, Colonel Johann Rall, the hero of White Plains Chatterton’s Hill and the breakthrough at Fort Washington, kept his men in constant readiness and on patrol. A series of raids by the local militia in the prior days had put them on edge, and the men slept dressed and armed.
Rall realized the precarious nature of the Trenton outpost and frequently demanded reinforcements—to no avail. In exasperation, he complained, “Scheiszer bey Scheisz! [shit on shit] Let them come. . . . We will go at them with the bayonet.” British spies had warned of an impending attack on Trenton, but no one knew the exact day and time. The intelligence, combined with the raids, put Rall and his men in a perpetual state of alert and began to fray their nerves.
Washington settled on a complicated plan to envelop Rall’s garrison. The main force, which included the elite troops from Maryland, would cross at McConkey’s Ferry. The unflappable John Glover and his Marblehead Mariners led the assault river crossing on the Delaware. Asked if the plan was doable, he confidently reassured Washington “not to be troubled about that as his boys could manage it.” I tell their untold story along with the story of America’s founding in my bestselling book, The Indispensables: Marblehead’s Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware. The book is a Band-of-Brothers style treatment of this unique group of Americans who changed the course of history.
In December 1776, Washington turned to the only group of men he knew had the strength and skill to deliver the army to Trenton. The Marblehead men miraculously transported Washington and the bulk of his army across the Delaware in the heart of the raging storm. He ordered two additional groups of American troops to cross the river below Trenton to cut off the enemy’s retreat. These groups not guided by the Marbleheaders found the icy river impassable. But the courage and nautical talent of The Indispensables enabled the battle that changed the course of the Revolutionary War.
When the main body reached the crossing point as the sun was setting on Christmas night, the water had begun to freeze near the shore, and even sections in the center of the river were covered in ice. Yet the men followed Washington. One participant recalled, “Our General halted his Army and raising on his stirrups made us such an animating speech that we forgot the cold, the hunger and the toil under which we were ready to sink and each man seemed only to be anxious for the onset. The Snow & Slush ice covered the firm ice in the River, yet when our brave commander gave the word and turned his horse’s head across the stream, no one complained or held back, but all plunged in emulous who should next touch the Jersey shore after our beloved.”
The army was in pitiful condition as one American officer remembered, “It would be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some have tied old rags around their feet; others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain.”
By 11:00 p.m., a massive storm pelted the men with snow, sleet, and biting wind as they crossed the Delaware in Durham boats. For the troops, many of whom could not swim, falling over the side would likely have meant death in the icy currents.
Despite the risk of frostbite and hypothermia, the indefatigable Continental Army pressed on. Washington was out front leading the operation, “I have never seen Washington so determined as he is now. He stands on the bank of the river, wrapped in his cloak, superintending the landing of troops. He is calm and collected, but very determined…the storm cuts like a knife.”
Miraculously, the Americans didn’t lose a single soldier in the initial crossing. However, the storm had put them far behind their original timetable. Washington had planned to have everyone over the river by midnight, but his army wasn’t reassembled on the far side of the Delaware until nearly four in the morning. Not knowing that the two other groups had not made it across, Washington ordered his exhausted, shivering men to proceed at once on the nine-mile march to Trenton.
Through snow and sleet driven nearly horizontal by the punishing winds, the men and horses trudged through drifts and slid across the icy roads. As always, the Americans were poorly equipped, and few had clothing equal to the conditions. “Many of our poor soldiers are quite barefoot and ill clad,” wrote one of the officers on the scene. “Their route was easily traced, as there was a little snow on the ground, which was tinged here and there with blood from the feet of the men who wore broken shoes.” Another man recalled, “Our Army was destitute of shoes and clothing — . . . It was snowing at this time and the night was unusually stormy. Several of our men froze to death.”
Not wanting to lose any more of his troops, Washington shouted encouragement to the men: “Soldiers, keep by your officers. For God’s sake, keep by your officers!” Throughout the night, the commander in chief remained determined; adversity brought forth his best qualities. “Press on! Press on, boys!” he shouted as he rode up and down the line.
The Americans arrived on the outskirts of Trenton just before eight o’clock in the morning. Thanks to the reduced visibility from the storm, they approached within two hundred yards before the sentries sounded the cry, “Der feind! Heratus! Heratus!” (The enemy! Turn out! Turn out!).
Shots were fired, and the Americans charged, some yelling “These are the times that try men’s souls!” the famous words penned by Thomas Paine, as their battle cry. The Hessians, disorganized, fell back from the onslaught that seemed to come from all around them. Small groups clashed throughout the city in the house-to-house fighting. Soon smoke from the cannons and muskets filled the streets and, combined with the continuing storm, added to the confusion and lack of visibility.
Very quickly after entering Trenton, Washington’s army captured several Hessian artillery pieces. In the thick of the fighting, Rall ordered his men to retake the guns because their loss was considered a dishonor to the regiment.
With kettle drums beating, Rall shouted, “All who are my grenadiers forward!”
By this time, the Americans had infiltrated the entire city, and marksmen took up secure positions in houses and behind fences where they could pick off the enemy fighters. American artillery, commanded by Bostonian Colonel Henry Knox, pummeled the oncoming Hessians. Knox later wrote, “Here succeeded a scene of war, of which I had often conceived but never saw before.” Another participant captured the macabre melee: “My blood chill’d to see such horror and distress, blood mingling together, the dying groans, and ‘Garments’ rolled in ‘blood’ the sight was too much to bear.”
After retaking his artillery, Rall tried but failed to rally his men. Acting on faulty intelligence, he assumed that his only escape route, a bridge across the Assunpink Creek (a tributary of the Delaware River that flows through Trenton), had been captured by the Marbleheaders. He ordered the Hessians to retreat through an orchard to the southeast.
At that moment, two bullets struck the commander in the side. Mortally wounded, he “reeled in the saddle.” His men attempted to evade the Patriot forces, but the Americans pursued. On horseback, Washington led the attack, urging the Marylanders and his other troops forward, shouting, “March on, by brave fellows, after me!”
Hit from three sides, the Hessians, now leaderless, lowered their guns and their flags around 9:00 a.m.
Word of the surrender soon spread to the Continental forces throughout Trenton. A huge shout shook the town as the triumphant Americans threw their hats into the air and cheered the victory. In short order, they found forty hogsheads of rum and cracked them open. By the time Washington found out about the alcohol and ordered the casks destroyed, “the soldiers drank too freely to admit of Discipline or Defense.”
Washington had intended to continue his push forward and to attack Princeton and New Brunswick after Trenton, but these plans for a further offensive had be scotched due to the state of the army. The victorious, drunken men rowed back across the icy Delaware.
The blizzard continued to rage, and this crossing was even more treacherous than the first, costing the lives of three men. It was noon the next day before all the Americans got back to their camp, some having been awake and fighting against the elements and the enemy for fifty hours.
The Americans had killed 22 Hessians, severely wounded 84, and took 896 prisoners, while suffering few losses of their own. Equally important, they captured “as many muskets, bayonets, cartouche boxes and swords,” as well as the artillery, swelling their supplies.
The Americans had won a great victory, but they had little time for rest. Washington needed to capitalize on the victory at Trenton by eliminating the other British troops garrisoned in New Jersey.
But for that he would need troops. The enlistment period for the bulk of Washington’s men expired on New Year’s Day, and they had every right to return home, having fulfilled the terms of their enlistment.
What was left of the Continental Army went into formation and stood at attention as Washington mustered his oratorical prowess and appealed to the men to continue fighting. “My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do and more than could be reasonably expected,” he began. “But your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. . . . If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.”
Moved by the general’s words and his “most affectionate manner,” men slowly stepped forward from the ranks, more soldiers followed, as the majority of the army decided to continue fighting. Many of those who stepped forward would help turn the tide in the coming battles to win us the liberty we enjoy today. While the sacrifice was great, many of those volunteers died in battle or from smallpox, America’s resolve is at its strongest in its darkest hours.
Patrick K. O’Donnell is a bestselling, critically acclaimed military historian and an expert on elite units. He is the author of twelve books including The Indispensables, Washington’s Immortals, and The Unknowns. O’Donnell served as a combat historian in a Marine rifle platoon during the Battle of Fallujah and speaks often on espionage, special operations, and counterinsurgency. He has provided historical consulting for DreamWorks’ award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers and for documentaries produced by the BBC, the History Channel, and Discovery. PatrickODonnell.com@combathistorian
This article was first published on Dec. 23, 2015.
(CNSNews.com) – George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father of our nation, was a devout Christian baptized shortly after his birth by his parents, who were members of the Church of England.
The book, “George Washington the Christian,” by William J. Johnson highlights Washington’s religious foundation, his prayers, his religious habits, and his actions taken as a Christian soldier.
One of the stories that Johnson recounts of a 13-year-old Washington includes some verses that he copied on Christmas Day.
“Assist me, Muse divine, to sing the Morn, on Which the Saviour of Mankind was born,” Washington said.
“Some think that he composed poems himself, but it is more likely that he copied them from an unknown source,” Johnson explains. “It shows the manner of Christian training he had received at home. He had absorbed ‘the spirit of the Day and the facts of the faith, as well as the rule and model of Christian life.’”
“George Washington descended from a long line of excellent churchmen,” states Johnson. “If Washington’s military character was developed out of materials which came to him by inheritance from both sides of his family, so too was his religious character. That love of the church which we have seen as a distinguishing mark in his family became a strong inheritance which his own will and intelligence did not set aside.”
Washington took those values and beliefs with him in the army and encouraged others to do the same.
According to Johnson, when Washington was told that the British troops at Lexington had fired on and killed several Americans, Washington replied, “I grieve for the death of my countrymen; but rejoice that the British are still determined to keep God on our side.”
The day after Washington took command of the army on July 4, 1775, he issued an order saying, “The General most earnestly requires and expects due observance of those articles of war established for the government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing, and drunkenness. And in like manner he requires and expects of all officers and soldiers, not engaged in actual duty, a punctual attendance on Divine service, to implore the blessing of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”
About a year later on July 9, 1776, Washington issued another order defining a “Christian soldier.”
It stated, “The honorable Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a chaplain to each regiment, with the pay of thirty-three dollars and one-third per month, the colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure chaplains accordingly, persons of good characters and exemplary lives, and to see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect.”
“The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary, but especially so in times of public distress and danger,” reads the order. “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”
In his Dec. 24, 1983 radio address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan recounted George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, which changed the course of U.S. history; praised Americans for their generosity; and talked about Christmas as the “birthday of the Prince of Peace” who, for millions of us, “is divine.”
“It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth,” says Reagan.
Below are the complete remarks by President Reagan on that Christmas Eve.
My fellow Americans:
Like so many of your homes, the White House is brimming with greens, colorful decorations, and a tree trimmed and ready for Christmas day. And when Nancy and I look out from our upstairs windows, we can see the National Christmas Tree standing in majestic beauty. Its lights fill the air with a spirit of love, hope, and joy from the heart of America.
I shared that spirit recently when a young girl named Amy Benham helped me light our national tree. Amy had said that the tree that lights up our country must be seen all the way to heaven. And she said that her wish was to help me turn on its lights. Well, Amy’s wish came true. But the greatest gift was mine, because I saw her eyes light up with hope and joy just as brightly as the lights on our national tree. And I’m sure they were both seen all the way to heaven, and they made the angels sing.
Christmas is a time for children, and rightly so. We celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace who came as a babe in a manger. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher. But to other millions of us, Jesus is much more. He is divine, living assurance that God so loved the world He gave us His only begotten Son so that by believing in Him and learning to love each other we could one day be together in paradise.
It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.
Christmas is also a time to remember the treasures of our own history. We remember one Christmas in particular, 1776, our first year as a nation. The Revolutionary War had been going badly. But George Washington’s faith, courage, and leadership would turn the tide of history our way. On Christmas night he led a band of ragged soldiers across the Delaware River through driving snow to a victory that saved the cause of independence. It’s said that their route of march was stained by bloody footprints, but their spirit never faltered and their will could not be crushed.
The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow is one of the most famous in American history. He personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and Preserver.
In a few hours, families and friends across America will join together in caroling parties and Christmas Eve services. Together, we’ll renew that spirit of faith, peace, and giving which has always marked the character of our people. In our moments of quiet reflection I know we will remember our fellow citizens who may be lonely and in need tonight.
“Is the Christmas spirit still alive?” some ask. Well, you bet it is. Being Americans, we open our hearts to neighbors less fortunate. We try to protect them from hunger and cold. And we reach out in so many ways — from toys-for-tots drives across the country, to good will by the Salvation Army, to American Red Cross efforts which provide food, shelter, and Christmas cheer from Atlanta to Seattle.
Churches are so generous it’s impossible to keep track. One example: Reverend Bill Singles’ Presbyterian Meeting House in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, is simultaneously sponsoring hot meals on wheels programs, making and delivering hundreds of sandwiches and box loads of clothes, while visiting local hospitals and sending postcards to shut-ins and religious dissidents abroad.
Let us remember the families who maintain a watch for their missing in action. And, yes, let us remember all those who are persecuted inside the Soviet bloc — not because they commit a crime, but because they love God in their hearts and want the freedom to celebrate Hanukkah or worship the Christ Child.
And because faith for us is not an empty word, we invoke the power of prayer to spread the spirit of peace. We ask protection for our soldiers who are guarding peace tonight — from frigid outposts in Alaska and the Korean demilitarized zone to the shores of Lebanon. One Lebanese mother told us that her little girl had only attended school 2 of the last 8 years. Now, she said, because of our presence there her daughter can live a normal life.
With patience and firmness we can help bring peace to that strife-torn region and make our own lives more secure. The Christmas spirit of peace, hope, and love is the spirit Americans carry with them all year round, everywhere we go. As long as we do, we need never be afraid, because trusting in God is the one sure answer to all the problems we face.
Till next week, thanks for listening, God bless you, and Merry Christmas.
Speaking at First Baptist Dallas church on Sunday, former President Donald Trump stressed that the great achievements in America are due precisely to the Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices of its citizens.
“[N]one of this could’ve ever happened without Jesus Christ and His followers and His church. None of it,” said Trump.
First Baptist Dallas, founded in 1868, has an estimated 14,000 members and is headed by Pastor Robert Jeffress, 66. Jeffress served on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board and White House Faith Initiative.
“More than 2,000 years ago … an angel of the Lord appeared to humble shepherds and proclaimed the reason for our Christmas joy,” said Trump in his remarks. “‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.'”
“Our country needs a savior right now and our country has a Savior — and that’s not me,” said Trump. “That’s somebody much higher up than me. Much higher up.”
“We just do what we have to do,” he continued. “But the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ forever changed the world. It’s impossible to think of the life of our own country without the influence of His example and of His teachings.”
“Our miraculous founding, overcoming Civil War, abolishing slavery, defeating communism and fascism, reaching boundless heights of science and discovering so many incredible things,” said Trump.
“Even right outside,” he continued, “the magnificent skyscrapers and the whole development that this beautiful church is a part of. So different. So beautiful, however, so beautiful. And the United States ultimately becoming a truly great nation and we’re going to keep it that way. We’re not going to let it go. We’re not going to let it go.”
“But none of this could’ve ever happened without Jesus Christ and His followers and His church,” said Trump, who was raised Presbyterian. “None of it. And we have to remember that Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of our strength and of our hope. And here and everywhere and for all time — Jesus Christ.”Jesus preaches His sermon on the Mount. (Screenshot, YouTube)
“Let us thank Almighty God for our nation, for our precious freedoms, and most of all — and I have to say this — for the gift of God‘s everlasting mercy and grace,” said the former president. “We ask God to bless our nation and our people with faith and hope and love and peace.”
Commenting on Trump’s remarks, Rev. Franklin Graham tweeted, “Do you miss him? I do.” George Washington at Prayer Statue, by sculptor Donald DeLue.
Exclusive: Joseph Farah explains how he unraveled the mystery of ‘God with us’
December 23, 2021
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
Jesus has so many names in Scripture. It can be confusing – especially for a kid. I remember as one still struggling with whether there was a Santa Claus or a Jesus, wondering about all the different names for this God who died for us.
Not having really been told the story, I wondered why His name was alternatively Jesus and Immanuel.
In the span of 18 verses in Luke 1, we read:
(31) “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”
(32) “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:”
(35) “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
(49) “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.”
It was easy for a kid trying to understand why the prophet Isaiah instructed that Jesus should be called Immanuel, yet the angel Gabriel told Mary He should be called Jesus.
I attended many years of church and Sunday school classes, hoping someone would point out why. I was too shy to ask, fearing I might be deemed a heretic at the age of 8, God forbid.
And then there were many more names to come – in Bible verses and Christmas carols.
I really loved the sound of one of the latter – “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” “But wait a minute,” I remember thinking. “In Isaiah 7:14 He’s called Immanuel, and in Matthew 1:23 He’s called Emmanuel. Can’t the editors of this book get their spelling straight?”
At last Matthew explains that the name “Emmanuel” actually means something: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Of course, in Hebrew, the language spoken in Israel, names have meaning – inherently, as the Bible points out. Even Jesus was not His real name – or His name derived into English through Greek. Yeshua was more like it.
Read the lyrics to the Christmas carol for the introduction of even more names added to the mix!
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height In ancient times didst give the law In cloud, and majesty and awe Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Key of David, come And open wide our heavenly home Make safe the way that leads on high And close the path to misery Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high And order all things, far and nigh To us the path of knowledge show And cause us in her ways to go Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind Bid Thou our sad divisions cease And be Thyself our King of peace Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
Here, in this one song, Jesus is called “the Son of God,” “The Rod of Jesse,” “the Dayspring,” “Thou Key of David,” “Thou Wisdom from on high” and “the desire of nations.”
Maybe you already know all the reasons for these names of Jesus.
And He was called many other things before and since, including but not limited to, “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Redeemer,” “Lord,” “Master,” “Logos,” “the Word,” “Father,” “Son of Man,” “Son of David,” “Lamb of God,” “Bread of Life,” “the Lion of Judah.” “the New Adam,” “the Second Adam,” “the Last Adam,” “the Light of the World,” “the King of the World,” “the King of the Jews,” “Rabboni,” “Rabbi,” “the Nazarene,” “the I Am,” “the Chosen One” and many more.
It turns out, as most reading this today understand, these are indeed names, but also better seen as titles – titles that, if understood, tell the Gospel story.
Understanding the story and the names is much easier when we recognize that the Good News is developed and best told, in word or song, through the eyes and ears of Israel, in Hebrew – the land He came to and language He used to tell a story of liberation from sin.
I’m glad no one gave the story away to me. It forced me to find it for myself – like some great mystery unfolded. After all, God could have dictated a 200-word dictum making it simple, but just think of how we would have lost all the majesty and beauty.
Merry Christmas to those who honor the season!
“The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament” by Joseph Farah is available in both hardcover and e-book versions.
I published this story several years ago in a serial version. This year I have decided to republish as a complete story in one post. I wrote this for my young grand children. It is suitable for ages six through twelve. Feel free to print this and use it as a reader for your kids, or read it to them. The cartoons tell the story as well as the words so just looking at the pictures gives a kid the story.
The Gift Chapter One
“There is the farm,” said Morty to himself. “Look at all those trees.”
He came to the sign: Covert Tree Farm, Christmas Trees for Sale. Morty slowed Sky-scooter, and made a sharp right turn into the opening between the trees. The gravel drive wound through a grove of spruce trees. The tall trees shaded the forest floor, and kept it dark. Occasionally, a bird flitted from tree to tree and sang a sweet song. A beam of sunshine peeked through. God is shining a spotlight on me he thought. The ferns under the spotlight were lime green surrounded by dark green in the shade.
“These twists and turns are fun,” he said to Sky. He talked to his scooter whenever he was alone. Morty steered through forest leaning one way, then the other. His curl swayed from side to side. He was anxious to find the perfect present for his Boss. An opening of bright light led into the meadow where the farmer lived.
He spotted the sign for parking, and another sign on the barn stated rules for cutting Christmas trees.
Cut the tree at the ground.
Do not cut in the middle.
2. Use only the saw provided.
3. Bring your tree to the barn for wrapping.
Trees are $8.00 per foot.
Morty grabbed a saw and jumped onto the hay wagon behind the tractor. A cow mooed, and the horse whinnied in the barn. Chickens wandered all around the barnyard pecking for seed. He sat and looked around while he waited for the farmer.
Gosh, look at all those trees. They surround the entire pasture as far as I can see. He daydreamed as he sat waiting.
Farmer Jim raises trees. He sells some at Christmas, and takes the large ones to the lumber mill in the town. He plants replacement trees to keep the forest alive. It takes fifty years to grow a tree big enough to sell for lumber, and twelve years to grow a tree tall enough for Christmas.
Morty sat staring at the trees and talked to himself. I love coming to the tree farm. It is fun to explore the woods. The forest is beautiful, peaceful, quiet, and majestic. I talk to them and they talk to me. When we are alone I hug them.
Farmer Jim had a secret grove of old trees. He never cut these trees nor did his father, grandfather, or great-grandfather. His great-grandfather told him that they were there when he came to the farm in 1875. Some of them were two hundred feet tall. Morty discovered the grove last year, and fell in love with the old trees. His favorite was over two hundred years old. It lived through much of the history of our country. The big tree was a teenager when the very first settlers moved to the valley from the east.
I have to find a tree to give to baby Jesus on his birthday. I will invite my friends to help decorate, and make it special. The hay wagon jerked forward, and broke his thoughts. He was on his way to find the perfect tree.
Morty Pops the Question
Farmer Jim stopped in the field he was harvesting. Morty hopped off with the saw in his hand, and began to search.
My tree has to be perfect, he thought. It has to be shapely, and full with branches all around. It cannot be too big because my room is small. Morty wandered through the rows of trees. Most of them were already five to six feet tall. Many had bare spots, and deformed branches. With so many trees, picking the right one was not easy.
“They all looked perfect from the air,” he said out loud. “They looked beautiful, but at ground level, they all have defects.”
He stopped in front of a Blue Spruce to ask for help.
“Please help me find the tree I need,” he said to a tree. “I want one that is as tall as I am, but it can’t be too wide. My tree has to be shaped like a cone without bare spots. ”
“I was exactly like that three years ago.”
“So was I,” answered another spruce.
Morty kept walking up and down row after row of trees. He finally stopped in front of a very tall Balsam tree.
“Can you help me?”
“What do you want?
“I’m looking for the perfect tree to give Jesus for Christmas.”
“I can see the tree you want from here. Follow this road next to me. Count off twenty rows, turn left, and count another five trees. There, in the center of a small clearing you will find the tree you want.”
“Thanks,” said Morty. He took the Balsam’s directions, and counted as he walked. When he reached number twenty, he turned left and counted five more. There, in the center of a small clearing stood a beautiful blue-green spruce tree. It was perfect.
I can’t believe it, he thought. Morty was speechless. He walked around the tree, looking for bare spots; there were none.
“It is as tall as I am, and it is shaped like a perfect cone.” He circled the tree over, and over, looking, and thinking, this tree will make a perfect present for Jesus. He examined the tree from all angles. He couldn’t find a single flaw.
He finally broke his silence, and spoke.
“Hi, I’m Morty Angel, would you like to be my gift to Baby Jesus?
“I’m glad to meet you,” said the little tree. “My name is Connie, short for Coniferous. How can I help you?
“I want you to be my gift to Jesus.”
“I can’t do that, my work is to provide a home for the birds, and to shelter the rabbit that sleeps under my boughs. This summer, I had three families living in my branches. What will they do without me to shelter them?”
“The Boss will take care of them,” said Morty, “besides, there are many trees in the forest to help them. It is a great honor to do something special for Jesus’ birthday.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Let me take you home and decorate you for Christmas.”
Connie hesitated a bit, “If I choose to accept, then I am giving myself totally to the Baby Jesus. I can only stay alive as long as the sap in my branches will hold my needles.”
“I know that,” said Morty. “I picked you because you are magnificent, and I want to please God’s Son. After we finish dressing you, I know you will make Jesus smile.”
“How will you decorate me?”
“I will lay strings of colorful lights on your boughs, and hang ornaments to reflect the light onto your needles My friends will string popcorn beads, painted pine cones, icicles, and snowflakes on your branches. We will put a crystal star on your top stem. You will look stunning. I’ll play Christmas carols to get into the spirit of Christmas. Then, after Christmas is over, I will use your branches to warm my house. Please do it.”
Connie agreed that pleasing Jesus on his day was important. He knew that Christmas was special. This was his chance to do something he could not do if he remained in the forest. If he stayed, he would grow big and tall and head for the sawmill.
After a long pause, Connie said, “It will be my honor to be your gift to Jesus.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” said Morty. He pushed and pulled the saw back and forth through Connie’s sap filled trunk in rapid motions. Seconds later, Connie fell onto the spot where the rabbit huddled at night to stay warm. The empty birds’ nest clung to his branches.
Morty saw the rabbit hiding under a nearby tree, “Well, Mr. Rabbit, come home with me. I’ll keep you warm.”
The rabbit jumped out. “Will you take care of me the way Connie did?”
“Yes,” said Morty, “come with me.” Morty hadn’t finished talking to the rabbit when the cardinal, the sparrow, and the chickadee appeared from nowhere and circled around his head.
“Will you take care of us too?”
“Sure,” he said. “Come with me. We will have a great time.”
“Hold on tight, Connie, I have to drag you to the wagon.” They left a track through the snow as Morty pulled Connie behind him. They stopped in front of the tall Balsam for a rest. “I can see that you found the perfect tree,” said the Balsam.
“Yes,” said Morty, “thank you very much. I couldn’t have done it without your expert directions.”
“Have a very Merry Christmas,” replied Balsam, “I wish I could be going with you.”
Farmer Jim came and found them. He helped Morty lift Connie onto the hay wagon.
“I never thought about how I would bring a tree home on my scooter,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” said Farmer Jim, “I will help you get the tree onto your scooter.
I have to help everyone who comes here. I have lots of experience with that.”
The tractor stopped in front of the shed next to the barn. Farmer Jim slid Connie into the wrapping machine, and pushed the button. A big wheel started circling around Connie. The noisy machine pulled cord around the branches, and squeezed them tightly into Connie’s trunk. When the noise stopped, Connie was much thinner than before.
Morty carried Connie to his scooter, and just stared. He could not see how to load him. The compartment was only big enough to hold a picnic lunch and some tools. The scooter was smooth all over. It didn’t have anything sticking out to tie a rope around.
“What am I going to do?” Morty placed the tree against the side of the scooter.
“Nope, that won’t work,” he said. Next, he laid Connie onto the seat. He fit nicely along the top and hanging over the end, but Morty would have to sit on top of him to drive.
“I don’t like that either. I know, I’ll sit and hold him between my legs.” He held Connie upright between his arms. “That is worse because I can not see to drive with Connie in my face.”
Farmer Jim finally came out and tied Connie to the seat.
“You will have to sit on him,” he told Morty.”
“Okay, but I don’t like it, come on kids hop on.”
The bunny jumped on and huddled by his feet, and the birds found secret openings in the branches to hide in.
“I’ll go slow,” said Morty.
“Good, I don’t want you to lose me after all that fuss.”
Morty drove Sky-scooter slowly and silently. The only sound came from Connie. He was singing Happy Birthday.
The scoot home took a long time, and Morty deliberately kept Skye out of hyper-drive. He drove slowly to keep the little tree from tearing off. They talked as he drove.
“The farmer planted me as a seed eight years ago. I became a sapling quickly, and was transplanted into a new field.”
Connie jabbered away as Morty drove.
“Farmer Jim re-planted me again when I reached sapling stage. He put me into the field where his great, great, great, great-grandfather grew up. I went thirsty during the drought, and the hot summer nearly fried my needles. I liked winter best. I loved when the snow covered my boughs and they drooped to the ground.”
“I’ve been a Guardian Angel since the beginning of time,” said Morty. “My duty is to watch over Brad. I love watching kids the best.”
“My favorite job is to take care of birds. The cardinals and chickadees picked me this year. They built their nests deep in my boughs to hide it from predators. I couldn’t believe how many trips they made with string, and twigs from all over the farm. Red and Rosy Cardinal brought the pieces one by one, and Rosy wove them into place. She pasted it all together with mud from the pond.”
“I loved to watch the Cardinals fly back and forth to feed their babies. They slept between meals, but made a lot of noise when they woke up. The kids chirped loudly until a parent came with food. One day, a cat came into my field. Rosy covered the nest with her body, and spread her wings to hide them. Red buzzed the cats’ ears to get his attention away from the babies. I dropped my boughs over the nest to give them more protection. Everything became very still while the cat was there. All the trees around me watched him stalk; his head was low, and his shoulders in a crouch. After what seemed like an eternity of stillness, the cat finally wandered off.”
Morty arrived home after dark. He untied Connie’s branches and set him upright into a bucket of water.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “I will place you into a tree stand, and dress you for the birthday party. Now it is time for all of us to rest.”
Early the next morning, Morty got up, brushed his teeth, combed his curl, and ate breakfast. It was time. He found the tree stand and placed it in the corner of his tiny room. Next, he placed Connie into the stand, and filled it with sugar water to give him strength while he was on duty for the party.
“I have to play Christmas carols while we decorate.” He tuned in to the Choir of Heavenly Angels over his boom box to play carols just as he promised Connie.
Morty sang with the music. He joyfully strung the lights onto each branch, making sure that the spacing was even. The rabbit and the birds helped decorate by hanging the popcorn garland. The sparrow held one end of the garland while the cardinal held it farther down the string. The Chickadee held a third spot.
They flew up in unison carrying the garland. Gently, they lowered the popcorn garland onto the branches. The beads came next. “I wish Brad were here to help,” said Morty. “His muscles would be a great with the heavy beads. They are too heavy for the birds. I must drape the beads carefully to make them look pretty.”
As he worked, he hummed Silent Night, his favorite Christmas carol.
“Sing with me Connie.” “Si – lent night, Ho – ly night, All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Vir – gin Moth – er and child! Ho – ly in – fant so ten – der and mild, Sleep in heav – en – ly peace, Sleep in heav – en – ly peace.”
They sang together as they worked.
“We have to finish decorating Connie so we can prepare for the party tonight.”
What a happy group they were. The Cardinals, Chickadee, Rabbit and Morty were all decorating the tree for Jesus.
“One last trick,” said Morty. “Birds, please carry the crystal star and place it on Connie’s top stem.”
He had one final ornament to place on Connie.
“You can be proud Connie. You are beautiful and will make Jesus happy on his birthday.
“Be careful with the tinsel, said Morty. “Hang each strand carefully. I don’t want Connie to look like the nest in the top branches.”
Morty placed a shiny gold ornament into the nest. As Red, Chick, and Spare hung the tinsel they chirped Silent Night. When the last strand was in place, they landed on Morty’s curl and admired their creation. Connie was an outstanding gift to the Baby Jesus on His birthday. Morty turned on the lights, and Connie came to life.
“I feel so wonderful,” said Connie, “you made me look beautiful. I hope Baby Jesus likes me.”
Morty handed the rabbit a bright red cloth, “put this around the tree stand to add the final touch.” Rabbit dragged the red cloth under Connie’s boughs where he had spent so many nights out of harms way, and worked the cover around the base.
“We have to put up the nativity next.” Morty pulled a small table to the tree. He wanted the nativity to be next to Connie where all of his friends would see it. Rabbit wiped the table clean, and covered it with Morty’s best tablecloth. The birds waited nearby. Each had a figure, ready to place. Morty set the stable in place.
“Okay, now you can finish by putting the figures down.”
Each bird hovered gently with a figure in its beak, and lowered it to the table.
They handled each Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and all of the characters of the scene with special care and gentleness.
Morty put the last tiny white lamb down, “here you are little Shepard.” The nativity was complete.
Morty’s tiny house glowed with the tree and the nativity. The birds sang in anticipation of the party. Morty and Rabbit danced a circle around the room. “My friends Max, and Gracie are coming to celebrate,” he said. “They will be late. Gracie is with Ben, and Max is with Jenna. They must stay until the kids say their prayers, and are asleep.
When the guardian angels knew their kids were dreaming of sugarplums and fairies, they slipped away to Morty’s house.
Max and Gracie arrived with their halos turned on, and shining brightly. Their angel wings glowed and fluttered when they saw Connie for the first time.
“Wow, what a beautiful tree,” they said. “Jesus will love you Connie.” “I have a new tradition to share with you,” said Morty.
“What is it?”
“It is called breaking bread.” Morty gave Max and Gracie each a slice of unleavened bread He held his own piece up and stood in front of Gracie. “Hold your bread up like I am doing.”
“Yes.” Morty pinched a piece of Gracie’s bread and said, “I wish you peace.” He tore another piece and wished her love.
“Now you do the same and make your own wishes for me.”
Gracie followed his example. “What a beautiful tradition. Where did you learn this?”
“On my last visit to heaven, Brad, Ben, and Jenna’s Grandma showed me. She asked me to keep the tradition going in her family.”
The three angels shared wishes for each other. Each of them broke bread from the other and made a wish with each piece.
When the bread was all gone, they made one final wish.
Without another word, Morty, Gracie, and Max, knelt quietly before the crèche, the birds, and the rabbit at their sides.
They said prayers for their children, for peace in the world, and for goodwill toward all men!
As you enjoy this Christmas in the company of friends and family, be sure to reflect on how the babe in the manger reveals to us God’s wonderful love. But even more, as Chuck Colson explained over a decade ago, remember the cosmic implications of the incarnation… that God would indeed become flesh. Here is Chuck Colson.
The manger scene inspires a sense of awe and comfort to the hearts of Christians everywhere. But we often forget the staggering implications of Christmas. What image does the mention of Christmas typically conjure up? For most of us, it’s a babe lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph, angels, and assorted animals look on.
Heartwarming picture, but Christmas is about far more than a Child’s birth—even the Savior’s birth. It’s about the Incarnation: God Himself, Creator of heaven and Earth, invading planet Earth, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
It’s a staggering thought. Think of it: The Word—that is, Logos in the Greek, which meant all knowledge that could be known, the plan of creation—that is, ultimate reality, becomes mere man? And that He was not born of an earthly king and queen, but of a virgin of a backwater village named Nazareth? Certainly, God delights in confounding worldly wisdom and human expectations.
Thirty years after His humble birth, Jesus increased the Jews’ befuddlement when He read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…to set free those who are downtrodden…” Jesus then turned the scroll back and announced, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In effect, the carpenter’s son had just announced He was the King.
So yes, the birth of Jesus is a glorious moment, and the manger scene brings comfort and joy and Christmas cheer. But it should also inspire a holy terror in us—that this baby is God incarnate, the King who came to set captives free, through His violent, bloody death on the cross as atonement for us, His unworthy subjects.
It’s through the Incarnation God sets His grand plan in motion. He invades planet Earth, establishing His reign through Christ’s earthly ministry. And then Christ leaves behind an occupying force, His Church, which is to carry on the work of redemption until His return and the kingdom’s final triumph.
Do we get this? I’m afraid most of us are so preoccupied and distracted by last-minute Christmas shopping and consumerism, we fail to see God’s cosmic plan of redemption in which we, as fallen creatures, are directly involved.
Well, the average Christian may not “get” this announcement, but those locked behind bars do. Whenever I preach in the prisons, and I read Christ’s inaugural sermon, Luke 4:18, and when I quote His promise of freedom for prisoners, they often raise their arms and cheer. The message of Jesus means freedom and victory for those who once had no hope. They’re not distracted by the encumbrance of wealth and comfort.
People in the developing world get it, too. Whenever I’ve shared this message with the poor and oppressed people overseas, I see eyes brightening. Stripped of all material blessings, exploited by earthly powers, they long for the bold new kingdom of Christ.
Today is Christmas. Go ahead, enjoy singing about and celebrating the birth of the Savior. Set up a manger scene in your home. But don’t forget this earth-shaking truth: The birth of the Baby in the manger was the thrilling signal that God had invaded the planet. And that gives us real reason to celebrate Christmas.
For all of us at BreakPoint, this is Chuck Colson in Washington, wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas.
Christmas is a season for giving. As we reflect on the wondrous gift of God’s son, let’s ask ourselves “ what are we giving this Christmas”?
“‘Iam the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” ~ Luke 1:38
Many of God’s people throughout time thought about God’s special gift of a Redeemer, and offered their own gifts in thankful response. These gifts are not boxes decorated with tinsel, silver bells, and Father Christmases, but unique contributions to the tremendous story of God’s special gift. In quiet sadness Jeremiah contemplated the massacre of the infants. Hosea joyfully thanked God for the escape to Egypt. Micah let the world know where Jesus would be born. And Isaiah told us that God’s gift would come special delivery, a son born of a virgin. This son would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Mary also prepared. She believed the anointed One must come and soon, and by her holy character made ready to acknowledge her Messiah and yield her allegiance to him. God couldn’t have a Christmas without a Mary. He needed more than just a devout person, someone who attended synagogue and said her prayers. The child Christ needed a body to live in!
When God became a baby, he knew he’d to compress,
His vastness, glory, all that power, into littleness.
A baby was the answer, but where to find the one,
The one who’d say, “Be born in me—
Oh, let me bear your Son?”
Would Mary be the earthly vehicle for God’s divine action? “Now wait a minute,” the devil must have whispered to Mary. “You’ve got everything going for you –
You’re engaged to be married, what will people say,
When you say that your baby is conceived a new way?”
Just imagine their startled incredulity,
When you say so sincerely, “God gave it to me!”
But Mary offered the gift of her body. She whispered, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
Christmas is a season for giving. The prophets gave their promises. Elizabeth gave her praise. Mary gave her body. Joseph gave his reputation. The innkeeper gave his stable, the shepherds, their time. And God gave his Son. Tell me, do you see your present there?
What are you giving for Christmas?
Lord, when I think of the prophets, of Mary, and of so many others who serve You so sacrificially, any gift I may have seems so small and useless. But I praise You that I am created with a life to give You. Christmas is a season for giving. As we reflect on the wondrous gift of God’s son, let’s ask ourselves “ what are we giving this Christmas”?. Amen.