For the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Liberation of The Netherlands by Canadian Armed Forces, I was invited by the organizing committee for the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Taber, Alberta, to give the main address. I was assigned a text, 1 Timothy 2:1-6.
As this commemoration has, these last days, again been on our minds, I thought I would publish it here:
November 11, 1995
Soli Deo Gloria
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-6
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
Mr. Mayor, Honoured Veterans, Ladies and Gentlemen:
In the passage of scripture which was read, the apostle Paul said that we are to pray for those in high positions (kings and governors) so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. God's people are to pray that the rulers of the country may achieve conditions of peace and security, so that the church of Christ may be enabled to pursue a godly and holy life. Paul tells the church to pray that it may have room. That it may have space in society to live, to function, to be a light in a dark world.
Fifty-five years ago, the people of God in Europe were, to a great extent, denied this space. By the summer of 1942, 400 million people in Europe lay under the yoke of Adolf Hitler and the godless principles of National Socialism. Hitler's empire stretched from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from the English Channel to the Black Sea. Hitler's partner, Mussolini, had been reduced to the role of a puppet. In the ancient capitals of Europe—in Athens, Rome and Vienna, in Paris and Prague, Oslo and Warsaw—all voices were drowned by the voice of Nazi Germany. Hitler's panzer armies were within striking distance of the Nile River. His U-boats had carried his offensive to the Atlantic coast of North America and into the Caribbean. He seemed to be unstoppable. By the summer of 1942, he had been denied victory only in the sky above London and in the snow outside Moscow.
Those of you who lived in Europe at that time will remember what it was like to live under a regime which denied your most cherished values. Hitler's goal was to establish a world empire. To attain that goal, he formed Europe into a fortress. A fortress from which he could continue to conquer east and west. He was seeking room to live. A word was coined to describe this search for room—Lebensraum! Room for his followers. Space for his antichristian principles and policies.
And if his followers and his principles needed room and took up space, there was then no room nor space for those who opposed him. Already in Nazi Germany, the church had been largely silenced. In 1933, Protestants who supported Hitler seized control of the key positions of power in the national church. The national church fell silent in the face of the persecution of the Jews and the systematic massacre of the death camps. And that part of the church which, under the courageous leadership of men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, continued to confess the truth of the gospel and spoke against the anti-Semitism and other Nazi policies embraced by the church became marked men. Many who spoke against Hitler and the hypocrisy of the National Church ended up in the death camps.
The oppressive policies of Hitler and Nazism suffocated true Christian freedom in other countries as well. My parents who were young adults in the Netherlands during the war told us children about this oppression. My paternal grandfather died in a death camp—Sachsenhausen—because he dared to speak against Nazi oppression. One of my seminary professors who was a young minister in Holland during the war remembers the secret police sitting in church on Sundays to hear what he had to say in his sermons. To see if he would say anything subversive.
Because of this oppression—because of the Nazi craving for more Lebensraum—others were no longer granted room. The room to lead quiet and peaceable lives (as spoken of by the apostle Paul) became very closed in.
But then God answered the prayers of his people. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, sitting in majesty at the right hand of God the Father—the Lord Jesus Christ, he who controls the ebb and flow of history, who raises nations up and sends them crashing to the earth—he raised up liberators. God's people prayed for freedom and for space to worship him according to his word. And God answered their prayers.
He used the Allied forces to push back Hitler's armies. He used many Canadian soldiers to liberate Holland. First the south in Sept. of 1944. And then the north in May of 1945. Fifty years ago, Holland fell in love with Canada. And as we could see so powerfully this past May, Holland's heart still throbs for Canada—for the sacrifice of so many young soldiers in liberating Holland from oppression and suffocation. My parents told me that May 5th, 1945, stands out as the happiest day of their lives. For it was on May 5th, 1945, that a Canadian Lieutenant-General dictated the terms of surrender to his Nazi counterpart and Holland was liberated. And on that day, the Canadians, the liberators, rolled through the streets of their city in victory.
Today, as a Canadian, born of Dutch immigrants, who has heard the stories about the war and about the Canadian effort to free the Netherlands, I salute the men and women of this community who gave of themselves to work for liberation. We salute all the men and women who so unselfishly sacrificed themselves, often to the point of death, in the two World Wars and the Korean war to set an oppressed people free. We wear our poppies. We will not forget those who gave their lives so that others could live and breathe and move.
But I also salute the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. For he, seated at the right hand of his Father, has been given all power and authority in heaven and on earth. He holds the reins of history in his hands. He is bringing history to its God-ordained conclusion. As he does this work, he raises nations up and pushes them down. And as he does so, he keeps his eye firmly focused upon his people, his church. In some periods of history, now here, then there, he, in his perfect wisdom, allows his people to be hemmed in by oppressive overlords and ungodly principles and policies. But then, at other times, he gives his people room to live, to serve, to worship, to breathe.
We remember those lying in Flanders Fields and in unmarked graves. But let us also remember Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the Lord of heaven and earth who rules history according to his sovereign power and wisdom.