December 14, 2009

Endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3

Weather historians agree that the winter of 1779-80 was the worst of the 18th century in New Jersey. And that was very unfortunate for the Continental Army encamped around Morristown.

The location was a good one. It was ideally situated a two days’ march from the British base in New York City, and the nearby Watchung Mountains and Great Swamp provided natural defenses. Roads connecting New England and the revolutionary capital at Philadelphia were easily guarded. The water supply was ample, and trees for fuel and construction abundant. Local homes could be used as quarters for generals and staff officers.

Anticipating a long stay in the area, General Washington ordered log huts built to house the enlisted men. Eight infantry brigades—over 10,000 soldiers—felled more than 600 acres of oak, walnut and chestnut to build 1,000-1,200 crude shelters. The bitter weather, however, impeded the work. For almost all of December, the army slept under tents or with no covering at all. Many of them were not under roofs until February.

In addition to not having proper shelter, the soldiers suffered from a lack of food and clothing during that cold, snowy winter. As a private bitterly noted, “The monster hunger still attended us. Here was the army starved and naked and there their country sitting still and expecting the army to do notable things.”

The story of those long-ago soldiers and their extraordinary fortitude is told at Morristown National Historical Park. And perhaps it’s fitting that it’s our country’s first national historical park, because as the park handbook notes:

The encampment of the Continental Army at Morristown, New Jersey, sums up much of the Revolutionary War. [It] was a war more of waiting than of battles and fighting. For the patriots, perhaps this was just as well, because they tended to lose the battles. But waiting imposed its own trials on patience and the ability of the infant United States and its weak economy to sustain an army in the field. In a contest of patience and endurance, Great Britain might have retained her American empire simply by persisting longer in the struggle than the often-impatient patriots. Morristown tested the emotional and physical resources on which depended the Continental Army and ultimately the American cause.

Where would we as a country be if those brave men—who did indeed go on to do “notable things”—had not stayed true to the cause? In the midst of terrible conditions, they waited out the greatest nation in the world. They endured, even though they undoubtedly wondered if the struggle was really worth it. We know now that it was.

Perhaps in this season of life, two hundred and thirty years later, you find yourself in the midst of your own icy spiritual, physical or emotional chill, undergoing deprivation and hardship, not at all certain how it’s going to turn out. Take a lesson from these long-ago soldiers—but more importantly, look to the Baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.  Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus did what George Washington could never do—He offered Himself as the sacrifice for all our sin, sorrow and sickness (Isaiah 53:4, 5). And He left behind His Holy Spirit to give us strength for each battle we fight along the way (John 14:16-18, 26, 27).

And the ending? We know that, too! It promises to be brighter than any Independence Day fireworks display and more beautiful than a pristine winter snowfall—with no more death or mourning or crying or pain to mar the picture any longer (Revelation 21 and 22).

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part,–
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

–Christina Rossetti


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