Monday, December 04, 2006

A Soldier's Christmas - A Letter From the Past Speaks to Today

My friend, Matt Carpenter, was kind enough to forward this moving article that just appeared in the weekly devotional publication called Marketplace Moments – Applying Faith to Work. Although set over 60 years ago in the era of WWII, the sentiments expressed by the soldier seem very fitting for this approaching Christmas season when many families will miss sons and daughters who are serving far from home. While written from the perspective of a Christian celebrating the birth of Christ, the message is in many regards a universal message of hope and of the power of love.

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The Last Christmas Tale

We hear from many readers serving their country, including those in harm's way. This WWII-era Christmas tale is offered with warmest Christmas greetings-and heartfelt prayers of gratitude- to each man and woman serving something bigger than themselves.

Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13

It's Christmas Eve, 1945, and the tiny church is filled to capacity. Candles cast a soft glow in the dimly lit sanctuary. An elderly man steps to the pulpit and clears his throat slightly, gathering the attention of all in the room. "Our pastor asked me to read you this letter, written by his son last Christmas Eve."

The room grew absolutely still. Quietly, the deacon began to read:

Bastogne, Belgium
24 December, 1944

Dear Dad,

Your letter dated 22 November arrived awhile ago. I'm saving it to open on Christmas. You cannot imagine what a gift it is to get mail here. Some guys who get no mail ask us to read ours out loud, just so they can hear from home, even if it isn't their home.

There are only six of us left now from the old gang. The rest are wounded, missing or buried here on the other side of the world. The new guys seem so young, though most of them are only a year or two under us in age. They'll be old too, soon enough. It's so cold we can't stop shaking; our water freezes almost before we can drink it! Rockport seems so far away to me now. What I wouldn't give to be baking on its summer beaches again!

A stir near the rear of the auditorium caught the deacon's eye, causing him to pause and look up. Near the back of the room, an old man leaned on his cane as he struggled to his feet. Expecting him to leave the pew, a young couple stepped aside to let him out, but he merely nodded and stood in place. Another man one row back also stood. Then another, and another, until eventually every man in the congregation was on his feet. The reader at the pulpit turned to the pastor, who looked across the crowd, deeply moved by this show of respect for his son. Then he continued to read:

All those years you gave sermons on Christmas, I never really understood how a person could love somebody enough to give his life for them. But these guys, Dad! I know it must sound silly, but you don't live and fight with someone without growing to love them. I know there are bigger reasons why we fight wars, but for us here on the ground, it's about protecting each other, simple as that. For the first time in my life, I understand there's something worth dying for, and that's the guy in my foxhole. I've seen men scared beyond belief do amazing things when their buddies are in trouble.

Tonight I heard singing across the fields where the Germans are camped. I didn't know the words, but the music was familiar. It's hard to believe the soldiers over there are singing
"Silent Night" in their language, being the enemy and all. Still it makes me wonder if they aren't doing the same thing we are, fighting not for Hitler and his minions, but for their own buddies next to them. It almost makes me wish we could shake hands and just go home. But we can't, and we know it.

No disrespect, Dad, but I'm not sure anyone can understand the story of Christmas better than the soldier. If he can give up a chance to see life through just because his friends are in trouble, then certainly God can love us that much. Surely that explains how Jesus could give up His place in heaven to come to earth.

As the reader paused to draw a breath, the sniffs and sounds of muffled crying could be heard throughout the room, but little else. He continued:

Not all of us are Christians here, Dad, and I'm sorry for that. Death comes so quickly to some that I just know they didn't have time to prepare to meet their Maker. I know it worries you that I'm here. When I signed up, I was so sure nothing could happen to me! Now what I want most is to be warm again; to be someplace quiet and safe. I want to get married, drive a new car, and all those things it feels like I'll never do now. I don't want to leave this world, nobody here does, but every day it looks more and more like most of us will. I want you to know, Dad, never before has Christmas meant so much to me. The story of the baby Jesus gives me hope in a place where there's very little reason to have hope.

I know if I don't make it, I'll be buried over here, and it makes me sad to think you won't even be able to visit my grave. But what joy we share knowing there will be a day when we all can see each other again in a place where we never will be sad or hurt or sorry again. So that's my Christmas present to you, Dad. Know that this Christmas, I understand better than ever before all those things you tried so hard to teach me. Give my love to Mom. I'll write again when I'm able.

Love, Tommy.

Not a dry eye could be found in the sanctuary that evening, one full year after that letter had been written. The men continued to stand out of respect for the pastor's son, and the ladies bowed their heads, showing their respect as they prayed quietly for the pastor and his family. The pastor continued to sit through this quiet salute, absorbing the love of his people for him, and his son.

After a few moments, a man seated to his left stood and stepped to the podium to lead the congregation in carols. As he did so, the congregation erupted in applause. Perhaps only on the first Christmas night did the appearance of a father's son cause more joy.

--Randy Kilgore

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Enjoy – and please pass this along as you feel moved to do so.


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