Guadalcanal, Omaha Beach, and Bethlehem -- a Christmas Sermon
by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.
What is the connection between Guadalcanal, Omaha Beach, and Bethlehem? I didnít think I had to explain what this title meant until I told my computer repair genius what my title to this sermon would be. He just stared at me. He has been a successful architect. One of his latest jobs was the new golf course on Bell Road in Auburn. He now runs a very fast-growing Internet provider serviceóhe is middle-age, father of four, but he didnít have a clue as to what Guadalcanal or Omaha Beach meant! I found this astounding. And it gave me a heads-up that perhaps many listening to me today may not have a clue either when we mention Guadalcanal or Omaha Beach.
But to continue my research based on extensive polling, I checked with my resident scholars, the Mower Brain Institute, and I got the same intelligent, blank look. Then I knew I was in trouble.
So, letís get the connection. On August 7, 1942, the 1st U. S. Marine Division landed on the north shore of Guadalcanal, a very small island in the Solomon Islands, not far from Australia. Guadalcanal was the first time that American forces turned back the Japanese invasion in the South Pacific. That beachhead on that forgotten island saved Australia from being overrun by the Japanese and turned the tide of war.
The average age of those 15,000, or so, Marines was 19. All went badly for them from the get-go. Under fire during the landing, the American navy pulled away, leaving the marines without air support, without much of their supplies and with a portion of the division still on board. Those 19-year-olders became expendable very quickly. But they hung on in that rain-soaked, malaria-ridden land, fighting off the snakes, the leeches, and jungle rot as well as the entrenched enemy.
For the next six months, Guadalcanal became hell for both the young marines and the Japanese. In early 1943, the Japanese pulled out 10,000 soldiers, all that were left of their original 40,000. What happened to the 1st Marines? After the island was secure, they were relieved by equally young army draftees. But the First Marines required a full year of rehabilitation before they could be called a fighting unit again. They too had lost many thousands, dead and wounded. Butóbut for the first time, the tide that had been all retreat began to turn. Australia had been saved by those few Marines and the free world took courage. The cost of a beachhead is beyond calculation.
Now Omaha Beach: Omaha Beach was the codename for one of the five beachheads assigned to the Americans on D-day, June 6, 1944, along with Sword, Gold, Juno and Utah. In the early dawn, the first U.S. Infantry Division (Big Red One) hit Omaha beach in the face of the vast fire power of the defending Germans. The huge guns on the steep bluffs above the beach had not been knocked out by the naval bombardment, as everyone had expected them to be. Further, by sheer coincidence, the Germans had moved in a full panzer division a few days before D-day, unbeknown to the Allies. I could wish that every young person could at least once in his or her life see the video, "The Longest Day." Or read one of Stephen Ambroseís books, such as Citizen Soldiers, just to get a feel of what real Americans once did for freedom. On that one day, that one division had 2000 casualties. Beachheads are costly, very costly. But from Omaha beach, the forces of freedom never looked back until they liberated Europe.
What do beachheads teach us? I think of least four lessons:
1) Beachheads are always a risk; not all beachheads are successful. Think of Gallipoli in the first World War.
2) The primary objective is to establish for the first time a successful beachhead on enemy land.
3) Guadalcanal and Omaha Beach were only the end of the beginning, not VJ Day, or VE Day--they were only the beginning of the liberation, not the end of the war.
4) Liberation forces did not stop their attack until the enemy was overcome.
Now the question: In what way was Bethlehem a beachhead? In Guadalcanal we sent the best we had, the First Marines. At Omaha Beach, the Big Red Divisionóthe best we had. To Bethlehem Heaven sent into this Rebel Planet its Best Representative, and its Surest Guarantee that this Enemy-occupied world would one day be liberated.
Our first lesson: Beachheads are risky! Many months of planning, went into the hope that Guadalcanal and Omaha Beach would be turning points in a terrible waróthe risks were great. Many months went into preparing the heavenly invasion in Bethlehemóand again, the risks were very great.
You know the story, it never grows old: Nine months before that very ordinary night in old Palestine something most extra-ordinary happened far off at the center of the universeóangels had put themselves on special alert. From galaxy to galaxy, the angels passed the question: "Where is He? Where's Our Lord?" Faster than the speed of light, inhabitants on billions of worlds were contacted, "Have you seen the Lord?" "No, He's not here." Streaking through billions of island universes, down past Andromeda with its 100 billion suns like our own Milky Way galaxy--angels sped, always asking the same questions, always the same answers: "No, He's not here. Where is He?"
But on this special night Gabriel waved to his colleagues, "Come with me. Come and see." Heading now for Andromeda's nearest neighbor galaxy, more than 100 billion light-years still to go, perhaps through the open space in Orion, they sped, through our own Milky Way system, with its 100 billion stars, each star with probably its own solar system.
On they hurried, until they came to a special star, not very large as stars go, but to a star called "Sun," that controlled the fate of at least nine planets that we know about. Still they had millions of miles to go. But angels travel very fast, you know, faster than sound, faster than light, and on that first Christmas they had an especially urgent mission--as Gabriel led them to Planet Earth, the third rock from the Sun.
And then they paused. They hovered in silence above a little Jewish town called Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? Because a baby was about to be born. Perhaps one angel said to another, "nothing special about that!" But this baby was different. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all the universe. "Could all this be true", the angels asked? Their Lord of the universe, here on a little planet called Earth, their Lord still hidden in a womanís womb, utterly dependent upon a peasant woman to even survive?
But Gabriel signaled for quiet. With wonder and respect, the angels waited. And then it happened! With the babyís first cry, those angels released the emotions of the universe. The lonely shepherds heard them first.
As Phillips translated it: "Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them: ĎDo not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day in Davidís town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.í And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God saying: ĎGlory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!í"(Lk 2:9-14)
Jesus made Bethlehem into Heavenís Beachhead in a hostile land. He was that Mighty Force that began the roll-back of the dark night that had covered the earth. Ever since that night, this planet every December has been celebrating that beachhead, wrapped up in the mystery of that manger. No matter what men and women may think of that beachhead, that baby boy split history that night into BC and AD. This is one birth on earth that can not be forgotten no matter how much anyone wants to ignore it.
How risky was Bethlehem? Baby Jesus came into this world as helpless as any baby is born, subject to the DNA and genetic stream all children inherit.
O, how He came! Not as a heavenly prince, cuddled in warm, soft blankets, hovered over by a team of imperial pediatricians and three shifts of nurses; not as a dazzling angel compelling everyone's attention; not even as a superstar teacher who would galvanize the respect and affection of both young and old. He came naked and vulnerable. No, He did not come as Christmas cards picture Him--a silent blessing. He came hidden in a Jewish woman who bumped along for 70 miles on the back of a donkey, for several miserable days, just hours before He was born.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, not even a bed was available. Her husband could find only a smelly goat stable. And Mary was in labor on heaps of straw, knowing that she had to deliver her own baby and cut the cord. And, O, how He came. He came with placenta and meconium and squalling cries, desperately looking for a warm breast and loving eyes to meet Hisó
God naked and vulnerable--just as He died 33 years later.
Wait! We must back up--He did not come even as a helpless little boy as one would see through the nursery window at Auburn Faith Hospital. Even before Bethlehem, in Nazareth many months before, He had come as a fetus. For nine months, the Lord of the Universe, inside a dark womb, within the abdomen of a woman, living off Mary's blood, at first just a few chromosomes, and then floating plasma too small for human eyes to seeóas close to non-being as even God could get.
Hard to believe that the Creator of our universe would imprison Himself within His own creation. And not just for nine months, nor for only 33 years! The immensity of Christmas is that Jesus forever encased Himself within time and space, which He, Himself, had created! As Inventor, He willingly locked Himself within His own machine forever! Some commitment!
Hard to believe that the Lord of Creation, who walked among the stars and whirled new universes into their orbits, would be born a helpless babe and be laid in a smelly manger, amidst the bleating of sheep and goats. Beachheads are always very risky.
Breaking out of Bethlehemís beachhead, he grew up in a carpenterís home in the small town of Nazareth. He grew up as every boy and girl does, meeting all the perils and temptations that attack every young man and woman, both from without and from within, "as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss." (DA:49). Beachheads are always risky.
But the big question: Why Bethlehem? Why was establishing a successful beachhead on enemy land so terribly important for even God? Listen carefully: this is what God was up against. His first-born, now His enemy, had convinced one-third of the angels, and then all men and women on this Planet, that God has been very unfair, just plain unjust, in demanding that His created beings should obey laws that could not be kept, or else!. And if they tried, they would be scared followers and miserable legalists. In other words, behind Godís smiling face was a big stick and everyone gets zapped, sooner or later. Now thatís precisely what the great controversy is all about. Satan says that we canít trust God who is so unfair and God says, "Try Me, and you will like it!"
Soó Jesus came to this Rebel Planet where Satan would have home court advantage. Beginning in Bethlehem, He would prove Satan wrong. For 33 years, Jesus, as a human being, was Heavenís clearest answer to Satanís charges that God was unfair and that God did not have the self-denial and self-sacrifice that He demanded in His followers. Under the care of dedicated parents, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Every day He was building those boutons of habitóHe was learning, as every overcomer must, the basic principle of the kingdom of heaven: "I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30).
Think of it! God had been patiently bearing a bad press, taking a bum rap for thousands of years. But now the Bethlehem beachhead where he committed Himself to being a mere man on a distant Planet, away off in a corner of the universe, far from the glories of heaven? How can this be?
Remember, He did not come as a reverse astronaut in a space-suit, shielded from earth's sinful environment like what Neil Armstrong and Ed Aldrin lived in on their moon walk. They breathed earth air. But Jesus would not breathe the air of heaven when he space walked on earth. He would live on earth as all children have to live, with no advantages not available to us. If you think that He had some advantage over us, take a good look at His ancestors. His blood stream was as polluted as anybodyís has been. Some risk! The stakes were very high: He would attempt to prove Satan wrong about God and man on center stage, in the full glare of fallen and unfallen beings. No time outs, no mulligans, no second editions. If He failed, the whole universe would never again be the same. It would be a universe without hope, without a song. Thatís right! He took that risk at Bethlehem!
Too often Christians focus on Calvary and cover Bethlehem with our pretty Christmas paper and tinsel and parties and colored lights. Without the mystery of the manger, there would be no meaning at Calvary. The way He came helps us to understand why He died!
Thatís right! He came not only to live but to die. He came to die a shameful death, a profound death, more than the sleep of the tomb that all of us, sooner or later will slip into unless Jesus comes soon. His death would become the rallying cry and center of hope throughout the universe. His death would settle for all time to come, how dreadful the wages of sin areóin such a way that men and women will never have to pay their own debt. And that is what Christmas means. If we want a simple definition: Christmas remembers the time when God placed Himself on the line for you and me when He established His beachhead in Bethlehem.
But, and we say this carefully and reverently: Bethlehem and the breakout to Calvary, did not end the war. On one hand, it was like the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, a little over 11 weeks after D-day. But there was a lot of fighting yet ahead until VE day in the following May, 1945. Beachheads are the end of the beginning, not the end of the war.
And that leads us to the fourth lesson of a beachhead: Liberation forces do not stop until the enemy is overcome. It was a long road from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima to Okinawa. A long road from Omaha Beach to Bastogne to Berlin. And it has been a long road from Bethlehem to Meadow Vista, 1998, and further yet to the VE and VJ Days of the universe when the King of Kings returns to fully liberate Planet Earth.
You ask, Why doesnít God just declare victory and return so we can all celebrate? Because the controversy is not yet over. And this is where you and I come in. The Christian church has much to do about the time when Jesus can declare victory.
Jesus has made His battle plans very clear to friends and enemies alike. Try Revelation 12-14. Nothing secret here. Here is where we all fit in. The devil knows what those plans are and so should we. Listen as Jesus revealed Godís strategy as to when He can declare victory: "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:18); "Then Jesus said to them again, ĎPeace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send youí" (John 20:21).
What does this mean? He has left it up to His church to expand the beachhead of Bethlehem. I know that it is an astonishing thought. Jesus is asking for His followers to help Him break out of the beachhead that He established . Amazing isnít it? The whole universe is waiting for Christís followers to do their part in pushing back the forces of evil on Planet Earth. But only those who first recognize why Jesus came to earth in the first place will be prepared to be sent into the front lines. Only those who understand why He made Bethlehem His beachhead will understand what the churchís battle orders are today?
What were His battle orders that He was given and now gives to His church? The same as His: "I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. . . . I have glorified You on the earth"(John 17:4). He came to tell the truth about God who had been so horribly misrepresented by Satan and men for millennia.
Listen to the following insights: "If you are a true representative of Jesus, it may be that through you they will be led to understand something of His goodness, and be won to love and serve Him. Christians are set as light bearers on the way to heaven. They are to reflect to the world the light shining upon them from Christ. Their life and character should be such that through them others will get a right conception of Christ and of His service" (COL:115).
Now the second: "It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world. Men are losing their knowledge of His character. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. At the time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power. His character is to be made known. Into the darkness of the world is to be shed the light of His glory, the light of His goodness, mercy, and truth. . . . The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them" COL:415-416. Our marching orders!
What does Bethlehem mean to me? I know that the dark night of evil will one day be over. I know that the forces that invaded Bethlehem can liberate my weak, fuzzy, muddy mind and keep it clear and clean.
I know that my Liberating General has personally agreed to be my Shield and Defender. I know that some days and nights will be dark and strange and unexpected in my life and in the life of my loved ones. But I also know that the hope of final liberation from the bloody hand of Oppressive Evil gives me the reason to be joyful, and trusting, and at peace, during those dark hours.
Lonely you may be, so was He. But He fought on, trusting His Heavenly Father. So may we. Baffled at times? So was He. Disappointed with friends, even loved ones, so was He. But He knew that the forces of light and truth were stronger than the forces of deceit and moral garbage. And He did not give up. And so may we keep holding on a little longer, one more day, one more week, one more year. We too will never give up
At times, I think I hear the trumpets. And they are not playing taps, but reveille. On one hand I see the twilight of integrity and honor and on the other, I see the brightening of the eastern sky, for that rising sun that will never set! Let His light shine through you and that dawn will be hastened!
Copyright © 2000 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.
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