1776 was a pretty bad year for the father of our country. After the British retreat from Boston, he marched his army of farmers to New York City and waited for the British to respond. They did with an enormous fighting force of the finest professional army in the world. The British had little trouble ejecting Washington from the city and continued to smash the Continental Army from one end of New England to the other. The Continentals went from one defeat to the next until finally in December they fled New Jersey across the Delaware River and into the safety of a Pennsylvania wilderness. Washington’s troops were still dressed for summer and otherwise clad only in blankets. They were mostly only barefoot too. Thomas Jefferson went door to door in Virginia and begged his fellow Virginians for their blankets and sent them to Washington.
The Continental Army was in a dreadful state and held together only by the force of General Washington’s will. He determined that if they were to die they would do it on a battlefield. He plotted one more battle and selected as his target the Hessian garrison in the city of Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessians were German mercenaries hired by King George to put down the American revolt. At the time, they were considered the best mercenaries and most brutal troops in all of Europe. The Hessians did not take prisoners and murdered all those who surrender to them. They were hated with a passion by Washington’s army and therefore he selected them to suffer his wrath. He plotted to attack them on Christmas Eve and how fitting to send as many of those brutal Hessians as possible to their final judgment before God on the anniversary of his son’s birth. Would Jesus advocate for them? I don’t know and that can’t be answered but Washington intended to help as many of them as he could to find out.
Christmas Eve night 1976 found Washington’s rag-tag barefoot army boarding open boats to face the full wrath of the freezing Delaware River.
It was cold and snowing but not just snowing – it was a blizzard. Freezing wind tore into their wet bodies like a reaper gone insane and many of them died. Some historians as I do refer this event as, “the Crossing.” It was a turning point and the event that would seal their fate forever. There was no retreat possible for them and they knew it. They did not intend to ever cross that frightful river again and their watch word was, “victory or death.” They were now like Greek Spartans and would fight to the bitter end.
Of those who reached the other side of that terrible river, half would get lost in the night and never found their target, but the small number who did attacked like madmen. For many decades historians believed the Hessian garrison must have been celebrating and distracted, but more recent scholarship has revealed that was not the case. They were some the most disciplined soldiers in the world and would not have been lax or drunk. They met their American foe that night with eyes wide open and the sight must have terrified them. Consider their condition after the crossing and then marching ten or fifteen miles in a blizzard. They must have appeared like demons from hell and the passion of their suicidal rage proved it. Their onslaught was too much for the Hessian defense and they threw down their weapons in humiliation.
It was the Continental Army’s first real victory and it gave Americans the gift of hope for Christmas.
President Trump just did the same thing for us this Christmas in a less violent fashion with his tax cuts. They might not make us great again but at least now there is hope.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. - Theologian and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hanged by the Nazis for plotting against Hitler