Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.

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Guadalcanal, Omaha Beach, and Bethlehem

-- a Christmas Sermon, December 2004, by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.

I know some of you are scratching your heads?  What’s the connection?  Let’s find out!

 On August 7, 1942, the 1st Marine Division landed on the north shore of Guadalcanal, a 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 and saved Australia an awful occupation.. 

 The average age of those 15,000 or so Marines was 19.  All went badly for them from the get-go.  While unloading, Japanese naval forces were bearing down and the American navy pulled away, leaving the Marines without air support, without much of their supplies and no artillery.  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.  If they had not hung on, Australians today would probably be speaking Japanese!

For the next six months, Guadalcanal became hell for both the young Marines and the Japanese.  However, 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, equally young army draftees relieved them.  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.  But—but for the first time, the tide that had been all retreat since December 7, 1941, began to turn.  Those few Marines had saved Australia 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 Normandy beachheads assigned to the Americans on D-day, June 6, 1944, along with Sword, Gold, Juno and Utah.  In the early dawn, the First Infantry Division (Big Red One) hit Omaha beach in the face of the vast firepower of the defending Germans.  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 visit that Beach and rethink that awful day as Norma and I did a few years ago.  If not, make sure you see the video, “The Longest Day.” Or read one of Stephen Ambrose’s books, such as Citizen Soldiers, just to get a feel of what real Americans once did for freedom.   On that one day, the Big Red One had 2000 casualties.  Beachheads are costly, very costly.  But from Omaha Beach, the forces of freedom never looked back until they liberated Europe. Some would say, if D-Day failed, we would probably be speaking German today.

What do beachheads teach us?  I think of at least three lessons:

1)  Beachheads are always a risk; not all beachheads are successful.  Think of Gallipoli in the first World War.

2)  Beachheads are  only the end of the beginning—they are only the beginning of the liberation, not the end of the war.

3)  Liberation forces do not stop their attack until the enemy is defeated.

I hear your question: In what way was Bethlehem a beachhead?  In Guadalcanal we sent the best we had, the First Marines.  At Omaha Beach— the 1st, the Big Red Division and the 29th, the Blue and the Gray—the best we had.  To Bethlehem, Heaven sent into this Rebel Planet its Best Representative, and the Universe’s only Hope 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 war—the risks were great.  Many months went into preparing the heavenly invasion in Bethlehem—and 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 universe—angels 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, our own Milky Way, he had more than 100 billion light-years still to go. Perhaps they sped through the open space in Orion.

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 special baby was about to be born. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the entire 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 woman’s womb, utterly dependent upon a peasant woman to even survive? Gabriel signaled for quiet. With wonder and respect, the angels waited.  And then it happened!  With the baby’s 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: ‘Do not be afraid!  Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy, which is for all the people.  This very day in David’s 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.’  And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest Heaven!  Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!’” (Lk 2:9-14)

Jesus made Bethlehem into Heaven’s 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 some 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 cannot 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 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 squalling cries, desperately looking for a warm breastGod 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 we see on many Christmas cards!  Even before Bethlehem, in Nazareth many months before, He had already 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, floating in an ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing, too small for human eyes to see—as close to non-being as even God could get—until that ocean in the womb was no longer large enough!

Hard to believe that the Creator of our universe would imprison Himself within His own creation.  And not just for nine months, or 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 without a key!  Some commitment!

But Lesson #2: Bethlehem’s beachhead was not the end of the war, only the beginning..  He grew up as every boy and girl did in Nazareth, 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).  Breaking out of a beachheads is 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.  God’s first-born, the first of all His creation was now His enemy.  Lucifer had convinced one-third of the angels, and then all men and women on this Planet, that God has been very unjust, in demanding that His created beings should give up their freedom and do things His way all the time, very unfair to expect obedience to laws that could not be kept, or else!.  And if they tried to obey, they would be scared followers and miserable legalists.  In other words, behind God’s smiling face was a big stick and everyone gets zapped, sooner or later.  Now that’s precisely what the great controversy is all about.  Satan says that we can’t trust God who is so unfair and God says, “Try Me, and you will like it!”

Think of it!  Satan is very good at his deceptions and lies. For thousands of years, God had been patiently bearing a bad press, taking a bum rap.  Most people today still believe Satan! But now on that first Christmas God 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 moonwalk.  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 anybody’s 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, and 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.   That’s right!  He took that risk at Bethlehem!

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.

Now Lesson #3 (and we say this carefully and reverently): Bethlehem and the breakout to Calvary, did not end the war.  Beachheads are the end of the beginning, not the end of the war.

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 Paris to Bastogne to Berlin.  And it has been a long road from Bethlehem to Lincoln, CA,  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 doesn’t 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 God’s 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, ‘Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you’” (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 isn’t it?  The whole universe is waiting for Christ’s followers to do their part in pushing back the forces of evil on Planet Earth. 

What were His battle orders that He was given and the battle orders He passed on 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. And that is exactly the primary responsibility of those who call themselves, Christians—to tell the truth about God in all they say and in all their human relationships!.

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 we  may keep holding on a little longer, one more day, one more  week, one more year.  We too will never give up.

We may feel that we are forgotten in a lonely, dark, foxhole in hostile territory.  So did He many times but He kept facing the Evil One until He beat that Evil One with sheer fortitude and endurance, leaning always on those angels and the Holy Spirit.  And so can we!

At times, I think I hear the trumpets.  And they are not playing taps, but reveille.  On one hand I see the twilight shrouding integrity and honor and on the other, I see the brightening of the eastern sky, for that rising sun that will never set!   Our marching orders are to keep walking into the light until the Light Bearer returns.  Trust those hands that were nailed to the Cross— because when you let Him take your hands, they will never let go.  That’s His promise, not mine.  Christmas will be no longer a holiday but your personal holy day, now and forever! 

Copyright © 2004 Herbert E. Douglass.  All rights reserved.

This Site Last Updated: Friday, October 10, 2014 03:20 PM
Copyright © 2000-2014 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.

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