Santa and the Girl in the War

By Bob Hiller

I’m not really sure if there is such a thing as a “memorable tweet” or Facebook post. But, there is one I think about a lot from a number of years back. I was really getting into singer/song writer Josh Ritter. In particular, his song, “Girl in the War,” (which you should go listen to so the blog makes sense) haunted me. Lines like “Now talking to God is Laurel beggin’ Hardy for a gun” and “The keys to the kingdom got locked inside the kingdom” were difficult conversation partners for my theology. So, I struggled with this one. Then, one day, our own Tim Winterstein posted the song on Facebook, saying something the effect: “I think this song is about the church.” And he nailed it. I think about that post every time I listen to that song.

Even if Ritter didn’t intend for this song to be about the church as such (or maybe he did), I think there is an important message in the song. Peter and Paul discuss a girl fighting in the war, needing help in her state of suffering. At one point in the song, Peter says, “If they can’t find a way to help her, they can go to hell.” Who is they? The clergy? The other saints in the church? I’m not totally sure. But, I think the message is clear nonetheless: there are people suffering in this war of a life, and if the church can’t/won’t help, well…you get the idea.

St. Paul is pretty clear, not in Ritter’s song, but in Ephesians 6:10-20, that the church is in a war with the powers and principalities of this world. Spend enough time around the church and you will find a group of people struggling with sin, pride, fear, shame, guilt, etc. You will find people blinded by their love of this world and broken by the consequences of their sinful actions (and I’m not just talking about the clergy). When you find the church, you will find a devil-harassed people. The whole church suffers under attack. And, this suffering is not just bound to the people of God, but throughout the world, sin and Satan are wreaking havoc and the fallout is a mess.

Now, in this world torn by warfare and strife, the church has a particular message of hope that she is to deliver to those under attack. In fact, God has given pastors to His church with the express purpose of making sure that the gift of hope is delivered without fail. The keys to the kingdom, in fact, have not been locked inside the kingdom, but instead, have been placed into the hands of the church and given to the clergy to unlock the doors so the Crucified One can get out and bring sinners in. The church has the mission to deliver the gifts of Jesus to those suffering in the war!

I saw a photograph the other day (in a very memorable tweet) of a guy dressed as Santa Clause in England during World War II. To protect his head in case of an air strike, he wears a soldier’s hard hat. Over his shoulder he lugs a sack of toys into an orphanage to children with no parents, living in fear for their lives, without much hope. When Santa shows up with toys, you can only imagine the joy that came across their faces when Santa shows up with toys. Christmas invades winter war! Here was a reminder that all is not lost, love still exists, and there are gifts to get you through.

This is what the church is called to do for Ritter’s girl in the war, for our proverbial children in the orphanage. In fact, I think pastors need to view themselves as Santa in the war. Ours is to bring hope, healing, and forgiveness to those who fear they have none of them. This is the particular call of the pastor, but, of course, the whole church has been given that Word of Christ to proclaim into the darkness.

Now, you set out to do this, you go out to bring hope to the hopeless, and you can just bank on the fact that you will get the devil’s attention. This past week, Satan was feeling pretty good about himself after getting 20 Baptists killed in Texas during a church service. An assortment of voices rang in a demonic chorus as the world mocked Christians-in-prayer losing their lives to such evil. So much for the power of prayer, they snarled. Just Laurel beggin’ Hardy.

In the midst of the hopelessness and despair, the Federalist ran a piece by Lutheran pastor, Hans Fiene, which became the focus of some social media outrage this last week. Enemies of the church and, from what I understand, even some in the name of the church attacked Fiene for writing about the victory of Jesus that belonged to those who lost their lives in that church. He showed that, though they suffered evil, God delivered them from a greater evil, even as they now rest in His nail-pierced hands. Pastor Fiene was Santa showing up with a gift, the promise of prayer; the promise that no mere crazed gunman, driven by the devil, could conquer the sigh of God’s people. (Luther says those little sighs seem so weak to the world, but they fill heaven, earth, and the ear of God like mighty cry!) The victory was Christ’s that day, no matter how hidden such victory is in this war of woe.

It was a great article.

And Fiene was, sadly yet predictably, attacked from every angle. The devil, you see, doesn’t like being put in his place by a mere preacher with the Word. So, online magazines ridiculed and assaulted the piece. Many “defenders of orthodoxy” on the internet found ways to fine-tooth comb Fiene’s piece and, of course, question his heart and motives. I understand (thought I didn’t see it myself) those in his own church body ridiculed it. (We Lutherans really are the salt and light of the internet). Sigh. The devil never rests.

And yet, in the midst of it all, despite all this death, ridicule, and noise, a gift was still given, hope was still proclaimed, prayers were still heard, because Christ crucified is still risen. There’s a girl in the war and this war is long. But, Lord Jesus has gifts to give; keys that unlock the Kingdom of Heaven and its promises of resurrection, forgiveness, and hope. While the war wages on, don’t let the devil fool you or silence your prayers or proclamation. Church, He’s given us the only hope there is for the girl in the war. Rejoice in suffering, for it is a hope that sustains us to life everlasting.