thought I would share one other way of looking at what God was doing that first Christmas.
Being a lover of history, and having a day off when the temperature outside is only 33 degrees, it is not surprising that I would sit down earlier today around midmorning and turn on the television to peruse the three of four channels that specialize in historical documentaries and/or series. One of those networks was airing a series on the Revolutionary War.
While watching the series, I was reminded of the significance of the last twenty four hours in American history. It was on the night of December 25-26, 1776 that General George Washington led his troops in the now famous crossing of the Delaware River. Early in the morning, he marched downstream and completely surprised the opposition at Trenton, New Jersey, winning a decisive victory and forever changing the direction of the whole war in the process.
At the risk of a gross oversimplification, here is what happened. Things had started out well enough for the Americans. After the Boston Massacre (1770) and Tea Party (1773), spirits were fairly high as the Continental Army garnered victories at Lexington and Concord in 1775, resulting in the forced evacuation of British troops from Boston early in 1776. However, things quickly went downhill in August of 1776 as the British landed on Long Island and then pushed the Continental Army completely out of New York.
Throughout November and December of 1776, the British Army under Lord Cornwallis kept pursuing Washington’s army, all the way across New Jersey. Thus it was that, using the Delaware River as a defensive bulwark, Washington crossed his troops to the west side and set up camp in Pennsylvania. Cornwallis chose not to pursue them and ordered his own men to set up camp for the winter on the New Jersey side.
Washington used this fact to his advantage, and quietly slipped his men back across to the east side of the Delaware River during the night of December 25-26, 1776. He then marched downstream to Trenton where he caught the Hessian (German) mercenaries employed by the British troops completely off guard. With fresh provisions and high spirits, he and his men then began an offensive that would eventually push the British Army back all the way across New Jersey.
After several major victories, including Princeton, New Jersey in January, 1777, and Saratoga, New York in October, 1777, the tide of war finally changed. France recognized the independence of the United States in February, 1778; and, for all intents and purposes, the war was essentially over within a couple of years.
For my part, back when I was in school, my wife and I lived a short distance away from the battlefield at Princeton, New Jersey. On multiple occasions, we visited this and several other Revolutionary War battlefields. We also visited the site of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. If you go there today, there are two state parks, one each for Pennsylvania and for New Jersey respectively, meeting at the river.
There you can immerse yourself in the history behind the event celebrated in David Shulman’s now famous anagrammatic 1936 sonnet, and more significantly, immortalized forever in Emanuel Leutze’s 1951 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, the original of which hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (And yes, this is the same image which was chosen for the back of the 1999 New Jersey State U.S. quarter dollar coin.)
I can only imagine how happy most of the citizens of Trenton must have been when General Washington and his ragtag Continental Army suddenly, miraculously, and triumphantly appeared. And the same must have also been true for most of the residents of Princeton, and of Kingston, and of Morristown, etc… As victory after victory unfolded and as town after town was liberated and as person after person was finally and forever set free, the joy must have been immense!
I say most of the residents because not everyone wanted their freedom. For whatever reasons, we know that a select few inexplicably preferred bondage to freedom. For my own part, though, I simply cannot imagine why anyone would have not have been thankful for all that General Washington and his forces made possible for them at that historic place and time. And as U.S. citizens even today, I can only hope we understand how much we still owe this man and that army. The truth is: we will forever be indebted to them for forging our freedom even as they founded our country.
Of course, the fact that Washington’s crossing and subsequent surprise attack on the enemy occurred on Christmas, of all days, is not lost on me as a preacher. It was a few years after I first stood on that obscure spot where Washington went on the offensive that I was privileged to stand on another very famous spot where another very famous offensive unfolded.
Half a world away, in an obscure little town called Bethlehem, after thousands of years of seeing His people routed by the Devil and his minions, God Himself surprised the world by slipping quietly across the bounds of eternity and taking the battle to the enemy. And just as General Washington was at the forefront leading his troops, so the Son of God took the lead in piercing the darkness and putting the evil one on the run.
No, this fact is not lost on me. Nor should this fact be lost on you. For, like me, you are one of those for whom Christ came. It was for us, both you and me, that He crossed that great divide and began heading for the great climactic battle that was designed, once and for all, to liberate us and to set us free from the tyranny of the evil one. For, you see, just as Trenton led to Saratoga, even so, Bethlehem led to Calvary!
I hope you have grasped this. I hope you have internalized this. I hope you have embraced the Christ of Christmas, that you have allowed Him to liberate your heart from the bondage of sin, and that you now have full spiritual freedom in and through Him. After all, that is the very reason for which He came!