Christmas is a time when we think about angels. It began over 2,000 years ago, when angels appeared to some shepherds, announcing that Christ had come to save the world from sin and its penalty of death. Over the centuries, traditions grew, and now we put angels on top of our nativity scenes and dress our little kids up in wings for the church pageant. But this week at Civil War Tails, we’re thinking about another December angel. Maybe you know his story.
On December 13, 1862, Union troops threw themselves against the Confederate position at Fredericksburg, Virginia, charging over and over across an open field to hit the stone wall on the rise above them. Sound familiar? Seven months later, the Confederates would do much the same thing at Gettysburg.
After the fighting had dwindled away, Confederate Sgt. Richard Kirkland sat in safety behind the stone wall and listened to the cries of the Union wounded. The calls for help and water bothered him until he could no longer sit and do nothing. Gathering as many canteens as he could from the Confederates around him, he clambered over the wall and hurried down to the Union wounded.
At first, Union troops fired at Sgt. Kirkland—until they realized his mission of mercy between the lines. Undaunted, Sgt. Kirkland gave water to as many wounded as he could before returning to his own lines once more. Since then, he has been known as the Angel of Marye’s Heights.
I can’t help but wonder, with the battle occurring only a few weeks before Christmas, if his actions saved lives that otherwise would not have seen another Christmas or the end of the war? A drink of water is such a small thing, but it can make a difference to one who has lost blood from a wound, and a simple act of kindness can lift one’s spirits and give hope.
This Christmas, perhaps you can be a Christmas angel to someone. An act of kindness may seem insignificant to you, but maybe it is the difference between life and death (emotionally, financially, spiritually) to the recipient. You may never know the end of the story—only God and the other person will—but that’s OK. Like Sgt. Kirkland, let’s do the right thing—not looking for reward or praise for ourselves but purely out of love and concern for the other person.
After all, isn’t selfless love the real reason for Christmas? Sgt. Kirkland knew he was risking his life when he crossed that wall, but he did it anyway because he wanted to save the lives of his enemies. When Jesus was born, he was the Son of God, knowingly coming to not just risk his life but to lose it when he died on the cross. He came because he, too, wanted to save the lives of his enemies—us, the ones who aren’t perfect and can’t be perfect. This Christmas, let’s have the same selfless love and desire to help others, even our enemies.
Merry Christmas, everyone.