It is the 25th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The Year was 1918.
The year began in the fog of war. The War-To-End-All-Wars was in its fifth year, and there was little to suggest that the fighting would be over any time soon. The American troops, which would number over four million, would not only bring their military to bear in Europe but something else too.
In 1918, at Fort Riley, Kansas, the first American soldier was diagnosed with and killed by a virulent influenza strain. This influenza would soon spread across the world. But with the war effort, most countries censored their press from reporting on it, lest reporting interfere with the war effort. Spain, not a combatant in the war, had no such press restrictions, and thus the Spanish press reported on influenza more than most. The Spanish media became so associated with the flu, and it would eventually take the name of “the Spanish Flu.”
Outside of Fort Riley, the fine people of Codell, Kansas, had spent two years cleaning up from devastating tornado attacks in each of the previous two years. In fact, in 1916 and 1917, a tornado had hit the town on the same day, the 20th of May. In 1916, it was an F2, and in 1917 it was an F3. Imagine the mood in town when the weather turned dark on that same day in 1918. Shortly after sundown, a category F4 tornado hit the same town.
The news of the year seemed to be peppered with bad news, followed by tragedy. It was the year of the Hammond Circus Train Wreck, one of the worst in American history. It was outdone in terms of casualties in the same year with the Great Train Wreck of 1918 in Tennessee, killing over 100 passengers.
The second wave of influenza hit America hard that winter. After a reprieve during the warmer months, the flu came back harder than before. The majority of the 675,000 Americans who died did so during this second wave. Doctors gave advice, politicians seemed unclear, many Christians stopped gathering, and many did not. I can imagine those who had lost someone or someones in the War or the Pandemic weren’t in the holiday mood.
And then, on the 24th of December, despite the pain of the year and the pandemic, Christmas came just the same, even in what must have been thought of as “the worst year ever.” Perhaps in those sparse times, to borrow the words of a poet: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags.” Or perhaps it came like it does every year with the same good news and promise. Jumping from one Christmas Cartoon to another, we will read what was surely read then and read now. With a hat tip to Linus Van Pelt, this is from the Gospel according to St. Luke.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
That’s what Christmas is all about….
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who of all the Christopher Gillespies is the “Christopher Gillespie-est.” The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember, the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.