Even with all the sorrow that hangs, and will forever hang, over so many households; even while war still rages; even while there are serious questions yet to be settled - ought it not to be, and is it not, a merry Christmas?This question can only be fully understood and answered by those who, at this time of year, have suffered war's privations personally--soldiers and their families. Thanks be to God, I and my family have not (yet, at least) been called upon to endure those privations: separation, fear, longing, grief, and despair, as well as physical suffering. But we who have been blessed with comfort and the company of our loved ones at Christmas must remember and say a prayer for those who have no choice but to wait and hope for those blessings another year--many of them, our own friends and neighbors.
~ Harper's Weekly, December 26, 1863
In my experience, nothing captures their agony more poignantly than Thomas Nast's illustration "Christmas Eve," which appeared in the January 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly. Be sure to click on the image for a lager version that will show all its beautiful detail.
The image depicts a family split apart by the American Civil War. The woman on the left is on her knees in prayer with her children sleeping behind her, begging God to protect and bring home her husband. On the right, the husband can be seen sitting with his rifle while on picket duty, beside a lonely campfire, gazing upon a small album with pictures of his wife and children. To the upper left and right are happy images of Santa and reindeer, but below the images of the parted spouses are depictions of soldiers marching through the snow, ships being tossed at sea, and most powerfully of all, the graves of soldiers who will never, in this life, have another Christmas with their families. The feelings that these images stir are beyond words.
So, this coming Christmas Eve, let us all pray to see they day when the prophecy of Isaiah comes true at last: "[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isa. 2:4)