Love in a Blizzard
[Sam.26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1Cor.15:45-49; Lk.6:27-38]
One thing that sets genuine Christians apart is their capacity to love enemies and strangers.
After their home in Aachen, Germany, was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944, Elizabeth Vincken and her son Fritz, aged 12, moved to a quiet forest cabin in the Ardennes.
They didn’t know that the Germans had been planning a major offensive through there, and in December they found themselves surrounded by winter blizzards and booming guns.
On Christmas Eve, Elizabeth heard a knock on the door. She opened it nervously to find three American soldiers, one bleeding badly. She spoke no English; they spoke no German, but she knew they were lost, frozen and hungry, so she invited them in. She risked the death penalty doing this.
She asked Fritz to rub their frozen feet to restore their circulation.
Elizabeth and one of the Americans could speak French, so they talked, and the wounded man fell asleep. Elizabeth told Fritz to fetch six potatoes and their only chicken to start preparing a Christmas meal.
A little later, as she tore a bedsheet to bandage the soldier’s wounded leg, she heard another knock on the door. This time, there were four German soldiers. She quickly stepped outside to greet them. They, too, had lost their regiment. They were freezing and hoped to stay overnight.
‘Of course,’ Elizabeth replied, ‘you can also have a meal and eat until the pot is empty. But we have three other guests you might not consider friends. But this is Christmas Eve, and there’ll be no shooting here.’
The German corporal asked if the others were Americans. She replied, ‘Listen, you could be my sons, and so could they. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted. This one night, this Christmas night, let’s forget about killing.’
The corporal stared at her.
Elizabeth then clapped her hands and told the Germans to leave their weapons outside. She also confiscated the Americans’ guns. Then she sat them all around the table, and whispered to Fritz to get more potatoes.
‘These boys are hungry,’ she said, ‘and a starving man is an angry one.’
One of the Germans spoke English and had studied medicine. He attended to the wounded American, and explained that the cold prevented infection. He also said he’ll need food and rest for his blood loss.
The men started to relax. The Germans produced a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread to share. Elizabeth said grace, and Fritz noticed that all the men had tears in their eyes. For one night, they were no longer soldiers. They were all young men, lost and far from home, taken in by a kind woman.
The next morning, as they prepared to leave, Elizabeth gave them chicken soup and used two poles and her best table cloth to make a stretcher for the wounded man. The German corporal gave the Americans a map and compass, and showed them how to return to their unit, avoiding the German army.
Elizabeth returned their weapons, saying, ‘Be careful, boys. I want you to get home where you belong.’ The Germans and Americans shook hands, and disappeared into the forest.
Back inside, Fritz watched his mother open the family Bible at the Christmas story. Her finger traced the last words of Matthew 2:12: ‘…they left for their own country by another way.’ [i]
In 1995, this story featured on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Fritz had migrated to Hawaii, and managed to reconnect with one of the American soldiers, Ralph Blank. Together they shared the same meal Elizabeth had made for them fifty years earlier. ‘Your mother saved my life,’ Ralph said. [ii]
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us, his disciples, a new law: you must love your enemies, even when they hate and curse you and treat you badly.
Jesus expects us to mirror the kindness and compassion of his Father, and he promises that whatever we give away will be returned to us with interest.
Of course, loving our enemies isn’t always easy. In her book 51 Ways to Love Your Enemies, Lynn Davis says that you don’t have to like someone to love them. She suggests many practical ways to follow Jesus’ command, including by being civil, polite and truthful, avoiding conflict, controlling your tongue, forgiving, encouraging and supporting them, learning from them, interceding for them and keeping the peace. [iii]
But here’s the point: It’s not only our enemies who benefit from such kindness.
We do, too, because hatred poisons the hater, just as it destroys the hated.