It was five days before Christmas, 1943. First Lieutenant Charlie Brown, a 20-year-old pilot of a B-17 bomber, had just completed his first bombing run over Germany and their plane was in bad shape. Their fuselage was riddled with bullets, their machine guns were jammed, and their three engines had failed. Brown had lost site of the rest of his squadron. They were alone in enemy territory. To make matters even worse, Brown had lost one of his crew members. His tail gunner lay tangled in jagged metal and loose wiring. The only sign of movement was his white aviator scarf flapping in the freezing air. Brown felt the weight upon his shoulder as most of his eight breathing crew members were wounded. They had positioned themselves in any nook or cranny to find cover. It can only be thought of as one last act of desperation in a hopeless situation.
As Brown lost hope, German fighter pilot Franz Stigler pulled up on the bomber’s tail with his Bf-109 Messerschmitt. He was one kill away from being awarded the German Knight’s Cross, one of the German Air Force’s highest honors. On that clear day he saw the ease at which he could attack the B-17. With one squeeze of the trigger he could have ended it. As he zeroed in, he ventured so close he could see the eyes of the wounded bomber crew and the dead aviator mangled in the metallic mess. He gripped his throttle tighter and prepared to squeeze the trigger. What happened next is probably one of the most amazing acts of mercy witnessed in war. Franz Stigler loosened his grip on the trigger and spared the lives of the B-17. Something unexplainable overcame Franz as he prepared to destroy the bomber. At a time of war against a sworn enemy he showed mercy. It was an act of saving grace.
But there is an even more amazing act of grace that extends beyond the high skies above. It began with man’s first act of war against God long before World War II. God had brought life into his most cherished creation, Adam and Eve. He provided them the Garden of Eden to rule over. But Adam and Even grew dissatisfied and rebelled against God. They chose to disobey God’s command and allowed a serpent to corrupt their minds. As a result, the dye of death and sin was cast upon man. But God loved his people and had other plans. Rather than destroy them, God revealed his mercy by promising something greater than we could imagine.
The Lord God had promised his son Jesus Christ to the world. It would be long before Christ walked with man on earth. But God always kept his promise, His Covenant of Grace. Christ would come into this world through the most humbling of ways. He would suffer greatly on our behalf. He would be bruised, bloodied and torn as he was nailed to the cross. He would experience God’s wrath. But on that day of hopelessness, He would be victorious and those who love Him would not have to suffer eternal death.
Much like the bomber pilot we are unable to save those around us and ourselves. We feel the weight of sin upon us and like the wounded bomber crew we desperately hide it to the outside world. With regards to our sin, we deserve nothing but destruction. But it was by the one true God, that he offered us His grace. Christ saved us from our iniquities. For the Covenant of Grace finds it’s clearest expression when Jesus says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" -John 3:16.