Saturday, December 15, 2018

Why Bethlehem?

It's easy -- and wrong --  to think of Christmas as some sort of beginning.

Our first impressions of Christmas, once our eyes are opened to the falsity of Santa, are often of an infant born in a barn -- the beginning of the perfect and sacrificial life of Jesus. 

We Christians profess to believe that the crucifixion wasn't the end of Jesus' life.  But, what if the Colonel told you that the birth of the Messiah wasn't the beginning of the life of God's Son?  What if he told you that the Son of God wasn't born on Christmas?

Over twenty-seven centuries ago -- seven centuries before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem -- a man by the name of Micah was born in the village of Morashet on the coastal plain southwest of Jerusalem.  A contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah, Micah also spoke out in condemnation of the Hebrew people whose hearts and practices had turned from God.  He accurately prophesied the destruction of the two capitals of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Samaria.  His statement regarding God's requirement of His people is one of the most clear and concise in all of scripture:               

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  -- Micah 6: 8 (NIV)

The prophesy of Micah that gets the most attention this time of year is: 

"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." -- Micah 5: 2 (KJV)

The first part of this verse gets all the attention.  It's the part that Herod's scribes quoted to him when asked about the prophesy of which the scriptural scholars from Persia (the "wise men") came to see fulfillment. 

That last part is the most awesome part -- in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion: "... whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."  The Hebrew phrase translated "from everlasting" in the King James version of the Bible actually means "eternity."

Eternity.  No beginning.  No end.

What Micah was inspired to prophesy wasn't that the Son of God would be born in Bethlehem.  The Son of God was never and would never be born.  As John said:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." -- John 1: 1-3 (NIV)

The truth is the Son of God has had many incarnations.  One of the Colonel's favorites is the encounter with Joshua on the Plains of Jericho, as the "Commander of the army of the Lord" (Joshua 5: 13 - 15).  How do we know that this was the Son of God?  Look closely at verse 15.  This resplendent warrior who Joshua approaches with no little trepidation is no mere angel (although angels are themselves indeed awe-inspiring).  This warrior identifies Himself and then tells Joshua to worship Him: "...take off your shoes, this is holy ground.

The ground in front of Jericho is not holy in and of itself -- no more so than was the ground on which God told Moses to remove his footwear.  What made the ground on which Moses stood holy was the presence of God. What made the patch of ground between the Jordan and Jericho holy was the presence of the Son of God. 

Still not convinced?  Think this was just an angel sent from God to give a battle plan to Joshua?

Angels do not accept worship.  John tried to worship an angel:
       "Then the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added, 'These are the true words of God.' At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.'."  -- Revelations 19: 9 - 10 (NIV)

The Colonel believes that the Son of God -- the Word of God (John 1: 1) and the Commander of the Army of the Lord (Joshua 5: 15 and Revelations 19: 13 - 14) -- has existed for eternity.  

He is God.  

As God, He is the greatest being that has ever existed and is exalted above all others.

He is the agent of creation.

He is the sole source of salvation -- the final and absolute sacrifice for our sins.

So..., why be born human as Jesus? 

And, why Bethlehem?

Why not Rome? 

Two thousand years ago, the greatest power in the region (the world, for that matter) was the Roman Empire.  Rome was the epitome of opulence, power, and prestige.  Anyone born of high nobility in Rome automatically garnered the attention of the known world. 

Why not Athens?  

While power and authority emanated from Rome, Greek philosophy and culture permeated and propelled Roman political influence.  Athens was the historical locus of wisdom and higher thought -- the home and soapbox of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Birth in Athens granted one a certain philosophical privilege and provided the world's best incubator for developing one's message.

Why not Alexandria?

Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. and ruled by the dynasty of Ptolemy (one of Alexander's closest companions in arms), Alexandria boasted the world's greatest repository of human knowledge on the planet -- the Great Library.  Even though partially destroyed during Julius Caesar's warring in 48 B.C., the Great Library remained the foremost center for the studies of mathematics, geography, medicine, physics, and astronomy at the time of Christ.  Access to the Great Library's scrolls provided any serious student the foundation for world-changing invention and scientific progress.

Yet, as Micah prophesied, the Son of God became flesh in Bethlehem.  

The Son of God could have been born of nobility in Rome, of philosophical renown in Athens, or of educational privilege in Alexandria.

The Son of God -- the commander of the army of the Lord -- could have not been born at all.  He could have ridden out of the wilderness at the prime of manhood as the greatest, most educated, most philosophically profound warrior the world has ever known (which He is), and brought the Roman Empire to its knees within a fortnight.

The Son of God -- the Word of God -- could have stood on the Areopagus, spoke God's will in a monosyllabic utterance, and brought all of humanity to it's knees in recognition and worship (which He will).

The Son of God -- agent of creation -- could have used Mousiem bona fides to gain attention and changed the world with the ultimate advances in medicine and physics 

Yet, God sent His Son to be born in the humility of a hovel in a tiny afterthought of a village at a wide spot on the road in one of the most remote and underprivileged corners of the Roman Empire. 

Bethlehem was at the shallow rocky end of deep dusty nowhere.  

God's Son became flesh in the most humble of ways in the most underprivileged of settings, so that His remarkable life and ministry of salvation would spring not from any man-made source, but would be the physical manifestation of love and saving power solely the province of God.

The Son of God most high was born as any of us -- a helpless baby; to live a sinless life -- without blemish as a perfect sacrifice; to die willingly at the hands of men He came to save.          

What really amazes the Colonel is that all of this was God's perfect plan all along.  God showed man His Son at critical times in the life of His people.  God inspired man's prophetic promises of the Messianic ministry of His Son.  God sent His Son to die for man's separating sin.  

The Colonel is looking forward to the next phase of the plan.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day Salute

The Colonel never really knew his maternal grandfather.    Eubanks McCrary was not much more than a name, a few faded photographs, and a handful of anecdotes -- the Colonel was a mere toddler when the man died.

The one thing about the man that had always been intriguing was the fact that he had served in the First World War.  Shame on the Colonel, but only of late has he begun to research the history of his grandfather's service. 

The Colonel's mother recently granted him custody of a small clutch of her father's documents.  When she handed them to him in a legal envelope, it felt to the Colonel like being entrusted with a most fragile fragment of our family history.  Of no inherent value in and of itself, but, to this increasingly sentimental soul, a treasure trove of not-so-trivial trivia about a man with whom the Colonel wishes for all the world to have spent acknowlegeable time.    

On the Colonel's desk this morning rests the contents of that envelope: a photograph of Grandmother and Grandfather McCrary taken several years before his death; a copy of their marriage license (married on Christmas Day, 1923); and a non-descript, paper-thin leather envelope with the faint embossing of an eagle and the words "Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Service.

Protected within that folded leather is a two-sided document.  On the front above the seal of the United States (appropriate to this day that the eagle's talons grasp both the arrows of war and the olive branch of peace -- our nation's enemies still have a choice) are the words, "Honorable Discharge from the United States Army."   On the reverse, a summary of Private McCrary's service under the words, "Enlistment Record."
There are terse, handwritten blank-fillers to the right of line headings such as Name:..., Grade:...; Date and Place of Enlistment:...; etc..., but from them a quick snapshot of the man can be gleaned.
Eubanks McCrary, from Columbus, Mississippi, was inducted into the United States Army on May the 27th, 1918.  He was 22, single, and by vocation, a farmer.  Upon his discharge a year later he was described as in "Good" physical condition and of "Excellent" character.

Near the bottom of his Enlistment Record are four tight lines available for "Remarks." Into that small space the practiced hand of a military professional entered a shorthand account of Private McCrary's service to his nation in the Great War:

No A.W.O.L.  No absence under G.O. 45 WD 1914
Co. D. 4th Tr. Reg Camp Pike, Ark5/27/18 to 7/10/18.  Co L C.P. July ARD 7/10/18 to 9/22/18.
Co. B. 161st Inf. 9/22/18 to 10/7/18. Co. B. 137th INf 10/7/18 to 5/6/19. Cas Det 4th Rc Bn 162nd DB
5/6/19 to date of discharge.  Served in France.  Sailed for France 7/18/18. Arrived U.S. 4/28/19 Entitled to travel pay to Columbus, Miss.  

Immediately following his induction into the Army, Private McCrary reported to Camp Pike, outside of Little Rock, Arkansas and was assigned to Company D, 4th Training Regiment until his completion of basic training on July 10, 1918.  Within the next week he traveled by troop train for the East Coast, from which he sailed aboard a troop ship to France on the 18th of July, 1918. 

From what was known about the casualty rates of the horrific meat-grinder that had gone on in France since 1914, he likely never expected to see home again. 

Upon arrival in France, Private McCrary was assigned to Company B of the 161st Infantry Regiment.  That regiment, in the 81st Infantry Brigade of the 41st Division, had been one of the first units to go to France with the American Expeditionary Force in the fall of 1917.  Upon arrival in France, the 41st Division was designated a "Replacement Division" and its men were subsequently distributed as replacements to other divisions when their ranks were depleted during fighting.  The 41st Division then assumed the role of training new arrivals to France prior to their assignment to the front.
The Colonel's grandfather arrived in France just as the great Allied Meuse-Argonne Offensive of the war against Germany was kicking off.  One of the divisions at the forefront of that offensive -- the 35th Division -- had been in the attack for four days when, short of food and ammunition and its fighting strength sapped by heavy casualties, it was counterattacked by the better part of four of the best-trained divisions in the German army.  The 35th Division ceased to exist, for all practical purposes, as a fighting force and its remnants were withdrawn from the line.

Private McCrary was among the soldiers, newly arrived in France, who replenished the ranks of one of the 35th's four infantry regiments, the 137th Infantry.  The 35th Division was sent to the relatively quiet Somme Dieu sector on the southeastern end of the Allied front.  There, it went into defensive trenchworks and so remained until the Armistice went into effect and the guns fell silent...

... ninety-three years ago, today.

For two decades, Americans celebrated the 11th of November as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the victory over Germany and the American fighting men who helped bring an end to "the war to end all wars."

Only, that war didn't do any such thing.

American men in uniform knew little peace during those next two decades.  Combat in defense of American interests in Latin America and even in Russia (grist for a future post) kept a sharp edge on the small cadre of American warriors who would form the backbone and animating spirit of the mighty force called on to defeat the Axis Powers during WWII.

So, after that war, and the one that followed, America began to focus it's remembrances on the 11th of November not so much on the end of what had become known by then as the First World War, but on the living men and women who had honorably served our nation in uniform. 

Armistice Day became Veterans Day.

Eubanks McCrary arrived back in the United States on the 23rd of April, 1919, less than eleven months after joining the United States Army and reporting for training at Camp Pike. Less than two weeks later he was honorably discharged and back on the farm.

He is buried in the small cemetery at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on the eastern outskirts of Columbus, Mississippi.  Not far from his farm, now a subdivision.

A simple marker reads:

B. Eubanks McCrary
Pvt Co B 137 Inf
World War I
4 Mar 1896 – 9 Oct 1958

The Colonel knows that the three dozen of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may indeed be remembering that one of the Colonel's pet peeves is the aggravating and undisciplined habit of a majority of Americans to mix up the meanings and observances of Memorial Day (initially known as Decoration Day, and first celebrated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at the conclusion of the War for Southern Independence), Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.

For the record: Memorial Day is reserved solely for the solemn remembrance of those who died in battle in our nation's wars, Veterans Day is reserved solely for the recognition of living veterans of the United States military, and Armed Forces Day is reserved solely for the recognition of those currently serving in the armed forces of these re-United States.  Period.  No room for discussion or latitude for mix-matching.

So, the three dozen of you who regularly waste rod and cone perusing posts hereon may mistakenly believe that you have caught the Colonel in a rare mistake  -- recognizing a deceased veteran on Veterans Day.

The operative word in the sentence above is "mistakenly."

The Colonel, sole arbiter of said (and unsaid) matters both in posts hereon and actions hereabout his vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is exercising the rights vested in him, by him, to declare today Armistice Day, here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State; and, therefore, takes this opportunity to come to the correct position of attention and execute a hand salute to the memory of his grand progenitor.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Leaves, Lighthouses, and Liberty

It's taken the better part of a week, but the Colonel has just about fully recovered from his latest "vacation."

On the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's, and the Colonel's, bucket list was a trip to Maine and New Hampshire in the early fall to look at leaves and lighthouses.  A flight to Boston from Memphis (the nearest airport to the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere) got them deep enough into enemy territory to be able to claim operational long-range reconnaissance patrol status, and before the leaf peeping and lighthouse looking could commence in earnest, a walking tour of Beantown was in order. 

Eleven point oh one miles later (not gonna make the Colonel a liar over one one-hundredth of a mile) the Colonel and his bride proclaimed, "Check!", and headed for Portland.

Maine, that is.



Long, circuitous drives in search of said lighthouses.

Long, excruciatingly stays at the site of each lighthouse while the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda photographed each from every conceivable angle save that of a drowning sailor.

Wait, you want to know why the Colonel didn't talk about what he saw in Boston?  You probably think the Colonel's love of history would have made a walking-tour immersion into mid-18th Century colonial unrest over a distant and tyrannical government's high taxation and restriction of self-governance the highlight of the entire week-long trip.

Meh.  Experiencing enough of that here early in the 21st Century.

In fact, Colonial Americans enjoyed far lower taxation and far greater local political freedom than do 21st Century Americans...  but, that's grist for another post. 

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda did get her picture taken in Cheers, so the Boston death march was not a total waste.

With the lighthouses of coastal Maine in the rear-view mirror, the Colonel and his best friend drove west into the White Mountains -- the Colonel wonders how long that appellation will withstand the incessant encroachment of political correctness on freedom and common sense -- and settled in for a few days of taking pictures of every single orange leaf, covered bridge, and waterfall in the entire region of central New Hampshire.

The White Mountains are quite picturesque in the fall -- no doubt about it.  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda has extensive photographic evidence. 

The highlight of the trip -- for the Colonel, anyway -- was a visit to Lexington and Concord on the exfil leg of the patrol.  

The Colonel is pleased to report that his movement from Concord back to Boston went a lot more smoothly than it did for the red-coated regulars on the 19th of April in 1775.   He tried to imagine, at various stops on the route, the terror and frustration felt by the King's soldiers as they were ambushed and harried by a swelling horde of farmers armed with firearms that in many cases were superior to their own.  "Aren't these folks British, too?" they must have wondered.  "How dare they defy the King's authority!"

The Colonel also tried to imagine what motivated thousands of farmers from across middle Massachusetts to converge on the Redcoat column that day.  Why did the man, whose farm and family outside of Bedford were not really threatened by the British regulars' occupation of Boston, answer the call to arms against the King's troops?  What motivated him?  Was he afraid that the Redcoats would expand their occupation of Boston to farms and villages of the interior?  Wouldn't his, and his fellows', act of violent rebellion on the 19th of April make expansion of regular army activity outside of Boston more possible? 

The Colonel doesn't believe that the man from Bedford was animated by some grand notion of American independence or a philosophical principle regarding the inherent rights of man.  No, it is far more likely that the man from Bedford grabbed his firearm and joined his neighbors and friends because they were his neighbors and friends. He wasn't going to be the man to say, "No, son, I wasn't there.  I didn't go when my friends went.  It wasn't my fight."

The Colonel believes -- without a doubt in his military mind, and, without a qualm about the contradiction -- that what really motivates men to acts of righteous violence is love.  Men dress it up in manly terminology -- comradeship..., loyalty..., honor -- but the motivator is love.

And love is local

When the next revolution comes -- and it will come, it always does -- the spark may be a single man's action, or a single bureaucrat's over-reach.  But, the fuel for the fire will be the bonds between neighbors and friends.

So it was in the spring of 1775.  The farmers who chased the regulars back into Boston, and who then formed the thousands occupying the heights around Boston, had far more pressing personal requirements.  They had planting to do.  But, the majority stayed on the heights.  Not for American independence -- that notion was still a year away from Jefferson's illumination and the Continental Congress' grudging declaration.  

The man from Bedford stayed on the heights because his friends and neighbors stayed.  

Liberty springs from local love.