Pearl Harbor Day is larger-than-life: distant, meaningful, weighty. On this day 82 years ago the world changed, propelling a generation of Americans into a global struggle, the effects of which linger today. As we slowly lay to rest the last of that “greatest generation,” we do well to honor all who suffered through those years. We owe them a debt of gratitude, not least for what we learn of fortitude, principle, and endurance. In many ways our life is their legacy.
This always brings to mind the words of a wise teacher who once said in passing: “Our whole world changed because a generation was willing to give everything they had. This is the power of sacrifice.” Really? Sacrifice hurts! Who wants it? But without sacrifice we never really live.
Mothers risk all to give new life, an other-worldy sacrifice upon which all else is built. Mothers and fathers together sacrifice greatly to build a family. Larger communities nurture and give meaning in their turn but are never whole and healthy without sacrificial listening, learning, working together, surrendering pet ideas and comforts for the good of the whole. This is the power of sacrifice. The more we lay on the line, the more potential good we gain for others and ourselves.
The Gospel story of the temple offering reveals something of this lesson. When a woman with little to give gave all she could, Jesus said her gift was the greatest because it cost her the most. A gospel song builds on this story and asks the question, “What would happen if I gave all?” Indeed, what would happen if we gave all of ourselves without thought of the cost? The best joys of life can always be traced to someone who gave all of themselves to serve others. Our joy is the legacy of their self-giving love.
And this brings us to Christmas, the happy season that is upon us in full swing. Could it be that giving is really what this is about? Self-giving? The lesson was lost on me in childhood – that the gifts tell the meaning of the season. But they do, or should. On the Christian understanding, the precise message of Christmas is God giving himself. As Creator, God can bring life where death seems to have the upper hand. But he doesn’t do it through sheer power; he does it through sacrifice – complete self-giving. God gave himself in a stable, coming to us in an unassuming way that astounded the wise and surprised the simple; and as C. S. Lewis has it, the gift was “bigger than the whole world.”
This is a mystery to be sure, and it lies at the heart of how the world is made. The potential impact of giving everything is immeasurable. We see it as we remember Pearl Harbor. And we see it again as those who believe in Christ remember the deep story of Christmas. When God himself gives everything the potential impact is without end.
How can this change me, and you? Maybe this: the allure of power and having our way is ever with us – and leaves us empty. The beauty of self-giving love is at the heart of all great stories, and leaves us full. If you and I want the story of our life to be rich and life-changing for those we love we need this lesson: great impact only comes from great giving.
That’s the story of the greatest generation. And it is the lesson of the greatest story ever told.
– Randy Huff