Religion: Christmas 1945

Detail from TIME's December 24, 1945, cover

Monday, Dec. 24, 1945
Religion: Christmas 1945
(See Cover)

Peace and homecoming, peace and homecoming rang like the clangor of Christmas bells in the heart of nearly every American last week.

For most Americans, on the first Christmas without war since 1938, these two facts transcended all others: peace (at least, the cessation of major war) had come back to earth; millions of U.S. fighting men, now a peaceful army of longed-for occupation, were streaming back to their homes. As families were reunited, often after years of separation, it was small wonder if the Christmas desire to give turned, as a result of the famine of goods, into a frenzy to buy, if Christmas as a domestic holiday and a public manifestation was sometimes of staggering inconsequence.

As a religious holiday, Christmas 1945 had, at least in the secret mind of those who shared the Christian vision, a new solemnity. Well might they read with a new anguish of hope, a new resoluteness of faith, a new temper of charity, the age-old words—perhaps the most perfect ever uttered:

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 Saviour, 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. 1

Christmas 1945 lay deep in the long shadow of eternity. Beside every U.S. celebrant of Christmas, there watched, like the shepherds, three presences: the war’s dead, the wretched and The Bomb. 2

The war’s dead included not only those who died that Christians might celebrate Christmas in peace and freedom. They also included the millions who died in concentration camps, the children who perished from exhaustion, cold and fear, in flight from battling armies or in air raids, the children who have died by thousands from hunger and cold in Europe and Asia this year.

The wretched included not only war’s fugitives, the millions of displaced persons drifting in hunger, cold and anxiety over the hard face of the world; and those others, allies and enemies, who had been shattered in life and soul by defeat in war —and some by victory. They also included the wretched who by reason of man’s nature and destiny are always among us. The hollow eyes of-the dead, who cannot speak, asked a question: What have you done? The beseeching eyes of the wretched, who cannot be heard, asked a question: What will you do?

The Bomb was itself a question. It was little to his credit that it stirred man’s ultimate despair more than all the rest of his calamitous handiwork because it seemed to transfer responsibility for his fate from God to man. Presumptuous man, who in all his pryings into matter below vision and into space beyond sight had never been able to answer the first question which the Voice from the Whirlwind put to Job: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?

The practical aspects of these questions would be settled in time, in the world’s way, by able men, purposeful men, shrewd men, perhaps ruthless men, and always confused men. There would be Babels of planning and organization, pyramids of policy. But these would come to no more than all those that had gone before unless, as on this day of Nativity, 1945, man felt within himself a rebirth of what some have called “the Inner Light,” others “the Christ within.” They would fail like all the rest unless man achieved the ultimate humility and the power implied in one of the Bible’s most peremptory commandments:

Be still, and know that I am God. 3

TIME cover December 24 1945 - Christmas 1945

Notes:

  1. Luke 2:8-14 – King James Bible.

    The Vulgate Latin Bible finishes with et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis, which means something more like “and on earth, peace upon all men [people] of good will.”

  2. “The Bomb” would prove a recurring fear of Chambers’s in his writings at National Review, including “The Coming Struggle for Outer Space.”
  3. Psalms 46:10 – King James Bible
 

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