It was the summer of 1776 in New York when Commander in Chief George Washington readied his troops for an attack by the British. The attack came on August 27th, 1776. British General William Howe won that battle, resulting in heavy losses for Washington’s Continental Army.
Though the situation had seemingly crippled Washington’s Army, on the night of August 29th, George Washington successfully led his troops out of Brooklyn Heights. It was a miracle: not a single life was lost that night. The Continental Army had survived.
The British closely followed, driving Washington’s Army across New Jersey. Washington managed to cross the Delaware River to found relative safety in Pennsylvania for the winter.
All hope appeared to be lost.
With most of his men’s enlistments running out, Washington had to act, and chose to make his move on Christmas day in 1776. The plan was to cross the Delaware River on a bitterly cold night to strike a Hessian (mercenary) garrison headquartered in Trenton, New Jersey.
Moral was low, supplies dwindled, and the Army had seen better days. But alas, on that cold winter night, Washington and his soldiers pushed on– determined to change the course of human events.
And then, the impossible became possible once more. The Hessian garrison of 1500 succumbed under the surprise attack and the attack became a turning point of the Revolutionary War. The Army’s hope was restored and their defeat in New York, forgotten.
Fast forward to Belgium, 1944.
With the Allies overrunning occupied Europe from the east and west, Hitler gambled on a surprise attack through the dense Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The shock of the assault caught the Americans by surprise, with enemy tanks and infantry striking deep into their lines. The Nazi forces threatened to capture Bastogne, a key town and intersection in the center of their axis of advance. The capitulation of Bastogne would spell doom for the Americans. It would create access to roads that would enable the Germans to continue their rapid advance west.
Surrounded and beset with persistent German assaults as well as miserable weather, the condition of the troops, both physically and mentally, dwindled. Ammunition, food, and medical supplies became scarce, and so did the vigor of the soldiers. The heavy overcast deprived the Americans of air support, enabling the Germans to advance unmolested across the Belgium countryside.
All hope appeared to be lost.
But, as the Germans rejoiced in their seemingly triumph, General George Patton had his chaplain write a prayer that would change the course of history. The prayer was issued to each member of his Third Army to likewise recite. Patton’s prayer read as follows,
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”
Not long after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared. And not only did the weather clear, but so did the path to victory.
Within days, General Patton drove back the Germans, and the beleaguered men of Bastogne were relieved.
The impossible became possible, just as it had in 1776.
Today, we are facing battles deemed ‘impossible’ to overcome. With near record inflation, skyrocketing energy prices, war in Ukraine, conflict looming with China and relentless pressure on our jobs, kids, schools, and homes, it seems that the words of Thomas Paine echo to us today, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Yet there is hope. Although the obstacles that we face are different from 1776 and 1944, we have the same hope to embrace borne forth 2,000 years ago in Israel’s ancient city of Bethlehem recounted in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2,
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men.
The same hope given to the Shepherds in Bethlehem two millennia ago, echoes across the generations for us today. Although the darkness is real, the forgiveness and salvation that we are reminded of this Christmas season, through Jesus Christ, shines like a beacon of hope and light upon each and every one of us that the best is yet to come.