God’s most precious gift to humankind is our savior, Jesus Christ.
I enjoy many secular Christmas songs but I especially love Christmas and Advent hymns – sacred songs about the birth of Jesus Christ. One of my very favorite hymns is “What Child is This.”
I usually end up crying when I sing it.
Often, I hear this song played on the radio during the holiday season, but these versions often skip the second verse of the song. Why? I can only surmise that people find it disturbing. This is Christmas, the time of glittery lights, presents, eggnog and good cheer. Many love the story of the little baby born in Bethlehem – the child of hope, goodness and light – all the angels singing and the shepherds rushing to the stable in joy.
But we don’t want to think about the reason God chose to become incarnate in the first place – humankind’s sinful condition. We don’t want to think about that sweet little baby, Jesus, growing up to sacrifice himself on the cross because of us. We don’t want to remember how he suffered, shed his blood, and died to save us. That’s too gruesome for Christmas! We should save all that macabre stuff for Lent and Good Friday, right?
Now is the time to CELEBRATE, right?
Absolutely! Please do celebrate, both now and always – no matter the time of year. Christ’s birth is definitely something to celebrate about! God the Son came down from heaven and was incarnate as human – the Word made Flesh – fulfilled God’s law perfectly, atoned for our guilt, died and then rose from the dead to proclaim victory over sin, death and the devil. All for us. We have so much to be thankful for because of God’s mercy and his ultimate gift to us.
In case you never heard the full hymn version of “What Child Is This” and were curious, here are the lyrics:
I’m not sure how to cite this, but the above photos come from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, authorized by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 2005. Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee WI USA
I just finished listening to the audiobook production by Edward Herrmann of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. The subtitle reads: “A WWII story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” The subtitle is truth in advertising, even if the main title “Unbroken” is actually ironic (I will eventually explain why).
In all, the book is well-crafted and the story of Louis Zamperini’s life is nothing short of amazing. I also learned many fascinating and macabre things about the Pacific theater of WWII. I would recommend this book to anyone, just as my grandfather recommended it to me recently, when I called to wish him a happy Father’s Day.
Now, I am not a history buff like my Papa – who consumes works of historical nonfiction and historical fiction as voraciously as I devour fantasy novels and gothic romances – but I will occasionally read books in other genres if they come highly recommended by word of mouth. Even though Papa had repeatedly told me that Herman Wouk’s work was good I had declined to read the books because I’m just not into history or politics (even though these are the milieu within which we all live and breathe). Perhaps I was already feeling a little guilty because of that. Or maybe it was because Papa turned 90 on June 23rd, and I decided that it was past time that I have a real conversation with him on a topic he enjoyed so much. For whatever reason, this time I decided that I would read the book he suggested so we would have something to discuss the next time I called.
Resolved on this course, I decided to check out the audiobook from my library so that I could listen to it at work while I mindlessly entered data and printed off certificates of analysis for customers. The unabridged script is thirteen hours and thirteen minutes long. It took me over a week to complete, listening for blocks of several hours at a time. The narrative is riveting and compelling. At times, it is absolutely heart-rending. Needless to say, I am glad to have a box of tissues on my desk; I used quite a few of them.
There were many parts of this biography that really cut me to the quick. Any story coming out of war-time is bound to be harrowing, and the man it follows certainly endured horrors I cannot even imagine. However, the grace of God was with Louis Zamperini through it all, preserving and strengthening him and eventually delivering him first from the hungry ocean and then from cruel captivity.
That was my main takeaway from Unbroken – the boundless grace and forgiveness of God.
Like so many other veterans, Louis Zamperini came home after the war a ticking time bomb, haunted by his memories and terrible flashbacks. He had endured much pain and degradation at the hands of his captors and his experiences left behind deep wounds. Outbursts of anger, depression and alcohol abuse was the result. Louis suffered nightmares and violent flashbacks about the psychopathic Japanese soldier (a.k.a. “the Bird”) who had abused him as a prisoner of war. He fantasized about killing the Bird in retribution. These murderous thoughts obsessed him to the point that he strove to accumulate enough money to travel back to Japan. All for the purpose of hunting down and killing his erstwhile tormentor.
I can only admire his wife’s fortitude and fidelity through it all.
Finally, when Louis reached his nadir his wife dragged him to a Billy Graham tent meeting (I will address the heresy of decision theology in a future post), where Louis heard Billy Graham preach from John 8:1-11. His wife convinced him to attend a second meeting, where a suppressed memory emerged. Louis recalled his prayer while adrift on the Pacific: that if God saved his life, then Louis would dedicate his own life to serving Him. God had delivered him from his ordeal and had now brought him to faith. Knowing Christ’s love, he could no longer cling to his hatred. Louis gave up his murderous obsession, alcohol and cigarettes and went on the serve the LORD as an evangelist. Having learned of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness, Louis went on to extend it to the Japanese soldiers who had abused him – even the psychopathic Bird.
I have not yet seen the film based on the book Unbroken. It’s on my list but after hearing that the movie leaves out the last chapters describing Louis Zamperini’s conversion I’m not certain that I will watch it any time soon. Assuredly, what the film does cover is probably just as inspiring and poignant as the book. However, by omitting what Louis did after the war the film only tells the first half of the story. Our increasingly secular culture does not like to hear the rest of the story of this man who found Christ after horrible war flashbacks finally broke him down. Our culture wants to convince us that a man can endure such trials by his own strength and remain unbroken. If you read the book, you will see that this is simply not the case.
Louis Zamperini was a brave, tough, resilient and amazing person. He survived a plane crash and circumstances as a POW that destroyed many other brave men. However, the traumatic abuse and degradation he suffered did not leave him unscathed. In the end, Louis was broken down so that God could build him back up into the man he needed to be in order to serve Him. I am sure if Louis was reading this that he would agree with me.
Well, enough preaching. I’ll hop down off of my soap box now. In any event, after reading Unbroken I feel that I have ample material for a great historical discussion with my Papa and an opportunity to talk about our savior, Jesus Christ.
As we head into another holiday weekend, I encourage you to check out Unbroken. Also, take a moment to reflect on the many freedoms that we enjoy because years ago men like Louis Zamperini fought and died in wars against tyranny.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Sound familiar? Yes, that could pretty much describe what is going on in the world today, even though Yeats penned it over 100 years ago. I adore that poem. It is a reminder that – time and time again – history enjoys repeating itself. Civilizations rise and fall. Nations and kingdoms will strive against one another. There are wars and rumors of wars. Plagues and pestilences, famine and earthquakes occur. In response to their questions regarding the end times, Jesus Christ told his apostles that the above were the “beginning of birth pains.” He also said that his followers would be persecuted and wickedness would increase in the world. And the gospel would be preached in the whole world (refer to Matthew 24:3-14.)
All of these things have come to pass, over and over again.
And yet, time marches inexorably on. We are still waiting – impatiently and with ill grace – for the return of our gracious savior. However, he will come in his own good time to wake the world up from its sorrowful history.
In the meantime and in light of the violence and injustice that has happened, is happening – and will continue to happen everyday until Jesus comes back – I find the following verses both instructive and comforting:
5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: 6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. 9 For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land
I might not fully comprehend the rage and pain of those experiencing racism, but I am praying for peace and equality. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering right now.