Christmas Thoughts from War’s Trenches
While studying in Scotland I was introduced to the theology and poetry of Studdert Kennedy. Kennedy was an Anglican priest and poet who served as a chaplain in World War I. He witnessed some of the most gruesome horrors of war as he ministered in the trenches on the Western Front. He was commended for his bravery for running into ‘no man’s land’ to rescue wounded soldiers. He wrestled with the overwhelming nature of human depravity and the place of God and grace in its midst.
On this Christmas eve we must remember that it was into the darkness that the light came. While we celebrate with food and gifts and carols, the story we commemorate is the invasion of grace and truth into a world of brokenness and death. It is the commencement of a cosmic battle that was fought for us to the depths of hell itself. It is the story of an extravagant love that overwhelmed our hate and an unconditional grace that swallowed up our guilt. It is a victory won for us through the shedding of innocent blood and the brutality of a cross.
This jarring juxtaposition of Bethlehem and Calvary, of manger and cross, of adoring wise men and crucifying Roman soldiers is the substance of our faith. So I thought is fitting to let Studdert Kennedy’s own struggle and hope speak to us as we celebrate the coming of the Savior of the world.
The first poem is called, “Indifference.” It reminds him of how easy it is to forget or water down the presence of Christ in our midst, especially at Christmas. (You can substitute the name of your own town or city for ‘Birmingham’.)
When Jesus came to Golgatha,
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham
They simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die;
For men have grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them,
For they know not what they do!”
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through;
The crowd went home and left the streets,
Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.
This second poem is called “The Judge.” I pray it touches your spirit with the reality of Christmas.
Methought it was the end of time,
The dawn of judgment day,
The world stood waiting for the judge,
Dim faces drawn and grey.
The sword of dawn slashed thro’ the East,
I did not dare to see,
But threw my arm across my face
From that dread mystery.
Then trembling raised reluctant eyes,
To look upon the throne,
But all the earth was emptiness,
And I stood all alone.
Till I looked down, and at my feet,
With shining eyes and mild,
And two small wounded hands held out,
There stood my Judge–a Child.
Oh come, let us adore Him. Merry Christmas!