War Christmas

Luke 2:11 To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (NRSV)

Why is it that we rarely appreciate what we have, until it is taken from us by financial circumstances, natural disasters, or war?

It was on November 30, 1939, my tenth birthday, that Russia attacked eastern Finland. We said goodbye to my father, who was called to the front lines, and we were evacuated from our homes to seek shelter away from the war zone. We found the first roof over our heads in a farm cabin. There were eleven of us, and room was made on the cabin floor for us to lie down for the night. In a few days, some left for another place, but some of us stayed with the family of five over Christmas until March, when the Winter War was over. During that time, I became a candidate to take in God's Word.

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the big day, but the church was 10 kilometres away, and we had no warm clothes to wear in the minus 40 degrees Celsius weather. In many respects, it was a day like all the others. Everyone did their daily chores and the feeding of the animals. Enemy planes flew low overhead and the sounds of war were heard clearly in the far distance. Every cannon fired seemed to echo the sound of death all around, yet I felt as if we were covered with a divine shield that bounced the fear and noise away. I did not understand what it all meant, but it had a lasting effect in developing my faith in God. I knew God saw everything. It was as if we were enveloped in the inner peace of the Prince of Peace.

I remember the farm woman singing hymns, and I would hum with her until she handed me a hymnal and asked me to sing Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I sat on the window bench of the cabin singing, with everyone listening. That hymn was instilled in my heart that war Christmas, and I have sung it hundreds of times since in church services.

A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious.
He breaks the cruel oppressor's rod
And wins salvation glorious.

The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight.

On earth he has no equal.
No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,

Whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,
God's only Son, adored,
He holds the field victorious.

But of course, on Christmas Eve, we had our traditional cleansing smoke sauna before the simple supper, after which we sat around as one big family. The sometimes static-y radio on a shelf on the wall was our well of information. That evening, the church broadcast a special service. Everyone had to be quiet from six until seven p.m. so that the war news and the encouraging message from the president of the nation could be heard. I was wondering if my dad was among the casualties that were reported, as if his name would be especially mentioned.

After that, a single candle was lit on the large wooden table. In thought, we were at the manger as the father read the Christmas story from Luke's gospel. A Saviour was born. A Son was given. Then he led in a deep bass voice, "Silent night, holy night". It was a Christmas with no earthly treasures but of heavenly riches that have lasted a lifetime.

It has occurred to me that Paul writes a lot about Christians being in all sorts of trouble, yet persevering through it all and building on hope in Christ Jesus, who has said, "I will be with you always." And so, our life in Christ gets built from ruins and loss of any kind even today. Jesus Christ with us is the solid answer.

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, You gave us Your Son, who would give His life as a sacrifice for the sin-wrecked world for our sin. Enable us to receive Jesus and conform our lives to His life. May this Christmas be the changing of hearts and minds to the glory of God the Father. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

Kirsti Sipila
Brantford, Ontario, Canada

Thanks to Daily Presbytarian

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