The Living Church published this Epiphany editorial during the tenure of Clifford Phelps Morehouse (1904-77, editor 1932-52). Morehouse served in 1943-44 in the U.S. Marine Corps as a correspondent and assistant editor for The Marine Corps Gazette.
The immediate background for the editorial was the final year of the Second World War. American bombing raids on Tokyo had recommenced in mid-1944, and the D-Day invasion of Normandy took place on June 6. On the eastern front, Soviet forces had pushed the Germans back from both Leningrad and Stalingrad, in addition to beginning the first liberations of concentration camps in Eastern Europe. By the beginning of 1945, Allied advances against Axis powers were significant enough in both European and Pacific theaters that there is a note of cautious optimism about the beginning of a new year. The editorial’s author could not know that the war in Europe would be over on May 8, just a few months away, and that Japan would surrender unconditionally on August 15, 1945.
From The Living Church (Jan. 7, 1945), p. 8
One of the most difficult ideas for the Christian to assimilate is the fact that this is a world in which, through Christ, God is totally victorious. We call every year of our era, “The year of the Lord”; 1944 was God’s year, though it was marked by world-wide bloodshed and strife and pain; 1945 will be God’s year, though at its beginning great armies are locked in combat the end of which no sober commentator will predict. Are these things God’s will?
The Old Testament was quite forthright in assigning catastrophe and calamity to the will of God. “Can there be evil in a city,” said Amos, “and the Lord hath not done it?” The prophets with invariable unanimity interpreted every defeat of the people of God as a victory for God’s righteousness. They asserted that God sent aggressors and plagues as a punishment for sin and apostasy.
This is not the whole of God’s revelation about suffering. But it seems to us to be an authentic part of it, and a part which is too often ignored or even denied by those who call themselves Christians today. If God is all that the Christian revelation says He is, there is never a moment of history in which He is not in absolute control of every historical force. He is even in control of the actions of sinful men, bending them to His immutable purpose. Hitler is the helpless tool of the judgment of Almighty God. Wherever the armies of aggressors go they are preparing the way of the Lord just as truly as, looking back over the historical perspective, we now see that the legions of Alexander and Cæsar did. The willful human heart is able to resist God. But it is neither able to mar nor to hinder the working out of His will in the world.
So, the Christian declares with perfect confidence that every year of history is the year of the Lord.
In this new year of the Lord that lies before us, there will be a plentiful measure of blood and tears. But, as always, Christ stands with outstretched, nail-scarred hands ready to make every man who responds to him an agent in the dispensation of His healing grace. Out of the abundance of His love He can and will take our imperfect offerings of fortitude and striving and unite them to His one perfect offering, filling up their imperfections and making them holy and acceptable unto God.
In this new year, every Christian is called to be, in union with Christ, both priest and victim. Every day of the year, in parishes throughout the world, Christians will kneel before the altar, offering themselves, their souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice. Through Christ, God has made us co-workers in His labor of salvation.
What strange and tragic gifts we bring to the altar when we offer ourselves! We bring, like the wise men of Epiphany, the gold of our natural goodness, sadly tarnished by our sins; the incense of our prayers, fitfully rising through clouds of doubt and temptation; the myrrh of our suffering, diluted by self-pity and blindness. While with one hand we offer our gifts, with the other we try to hold them back. Our imperfections are very dear to us. We will give God some of ourselves, but not all. We send our young men to die in a cause we believe to be acceptable to God. But at home we make a mockery of their sacrifice by contests for economic advantage, by laziness, by refusal to accept the sacrifice of sovereignty required for an orderly world.
This is the year of our Lord. He reigns triumphant throughout the universe. But at the door of our hearts He stands humbly knocking. Only within our hearts can there be resistance to His reign. If we open our hearts to Him, the victory of His kingdom will be complete and 1945 will be the year of the Lord within us. What greater consummation can we ask?
Richard Mammana is the Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.