The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.
If God has a specialty, it is to wrest victory from the surest defeat. Throughout history, God has proven to His children that He is always good, and that He has the power to rescue – even in the darkest hour. This Christmas, we will remember His greatest victory over darkness, when our Father sent His own Son on a dangerous mission to rescue those who believe from the grip of the most insidious Adversary imaginable.
Jesus Christ is truly the “reason for the season,” and apart from Him, there is no victory.
We should never forget that our God secures His people from their distress. Perhaps no better example of this can be given than the very first American Christmas, when God led “the boys of ‘76” through the darkest hour of the American War of Independence.
It was on December 8th, 1776, that George Washington fled with his tattered army across the Delaware to Pennsylvania. Having suffered devastating defeats, Washington was preparing for the worst: the invasion of America’s new capital of Philadelphia by the British regulars and Hessian mercenaries. Washington wrote to Congress that he could not prevent the British from crossing the Delaware into Pennsylvania, “Happy should I be if I could see the means of preventing them. At present I confess that I do not.”
As an officer in the Continental Army wrote, “a thick cloud of darkness and gloom covered the land and despair was seen in almost every countenance…”
As the new year quickly approached, Washington was acutely aware most of the terms of enlistment of his approximately 6,000 troops would expire by December 30th, which would leave the army with a mere 1,400 men. Furthermore, the condition of the army was “in a miserable plight; destitute of almost everything, many of them fit only for the hospital.” He needed a victory, and he needed his troops to re-enlist in the middle of a cold winter with no promise of provision.
A few months before this difficult season, however, a thirty-nine year old Pennsylvanian author had decided that it was time for him to trade his pen for the sword, and enlist in the Pennsylvania Associators, a volunteer regiment. This Pennsylvanian was not a common farmer or merchant. Besides Benjamin Franklin he was, perhaps, the most famous American in his time. Thomas Paine was an unlikely soldier. While he was in camp, suffering alongside his countrymen, he began to pen the first of a series of essays that would rally his countrymen, and embolden each rebel into a “historic agent of destiny.”
When General Nathaniel Greene learned that the famed American author was among the ranks of his army, he quickly made Paine his aide-de-camp, promoting him to Brigadier. When Greene learned of Paine’s first essay, he ordered that he have it quickly published. At great peril, Paine traveled to Philadelphia and 18,000 copies were published in the week before Christmas, and many of these found their way back into the hands of troops in the beleaguered army.
Washington needed a victory. And just days before Christmas, spurred by Paine’s words, he seized an opportunity. He would stage a daring counterattack on Trenton.
On Christmas Day, 1776.
But before the troops crossed the Delaware, he ordered that Paine’s essay be read to the army. And on December 23rd, huddled around campfires as a cold nor’easter approached, these words were etched into the souls of the American patriots.
Over Christmas night, Washington and his army endured a grueling re-crossing of the mostly frozen Delaware River. By dawn, the troops had reached the outskirts of Trenton and George Washington himself led the assault at 8 am. As the American patriots surged into Trenton, they screamed the words “THESE are the times that try men’s souls.” By the end, over 900 Hessians were killed, wounded, or captured.
Only 5 Americans were wounded.
This Christmas, remember that ours is a God that rescues His people who call on Him. Let us also remember that our God has more rescue plans up His sleeve.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. 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. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
–Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776