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It was one of the darkest moments in America's history. During the War of 1812, the British unleashed a fierce attack on Fort McHenry from the Baltimore harbor. In the midst of the fray, a young lawyer was desperately trying to rescue his friend, a doctor who had been taken prisoner of war by the British troops. Armed with a letter from President Madison and escorted by a government agent, Francis Scott Key boarded the warship where Dr. Beanes was being held. The negotiations were tense at first, but eventually the British agreed to release their prisoner--under one condition: They would have to remain on board the ship until the attack on Fort McHenry had ended.
For the Americans, it was an agonizing ordeal. All around them, they could hear the shelling--the relentless bombardment of the fort. But they couldn't tell what was happening or who was winning. While they could still hear the deafening noise of the explosions, Key and the others felt sure that the fort had held on. It had not succumbed to the attack. But in the wee hours of the morning, the bombing suddenly stopped. In the silence that followed, fear gripped the hearts of the little group on board the British ship. Had all been lost? Had the fort been forced to surrender? Anxiously, they paced the deck in the long, dark hours before the dawn.
As the first rays of sunlight pierced the darkness, Key and his companions rushed to the side of the ship, straining to catch a glimpse of the flag flying over the fort. Did it signify victory or defeat? Key was overcome with emotion when, at last, he could see the "Stars and Stripes" waving proudly. In the inspiration of the moment, he grabbed a letter out of his pocket and scribbled on the back of the envelope:
O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.O, say does that star-spangled banner yet waveO'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
In the second verse, he expressed jubilation that it was indeed the Star-Spangled banner catching "the gleam of the morning's first beam." Reflecting on the many trials and tribulations that our young nation had already faced--and triumphed over--Key added:
O, thus be it ever when free men shall standBetween their loved homes and the war's desolation Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued landPraise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust,"And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall waveO'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
It's been almost 200 years since Francis Scott Key penned the words to the hymn that would become our national anthem. America has continued to struggle for freedom and justice. We've encountered many battles, faced many dark days. But the enemies that threaten us today are not foreign countries. The primary threat comes from within: violence, poverty, drug abuse, immorality, and apathy. "In God we trust." To win this battle, we must return to the faith our country was founded on.
In the midst of the darkness, we can find assurance in the words of Jesus: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
He came to save us from the darkness--the dark sinfulness of our own hearts. Every one of us has sinned. We have all fallen short of God's righteous and holy standards. The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) For our sin, we all deserve to die. But God had a plan. He made a way to save us and reconcile us to Himself:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." (John 3:16-17)
When Jesus died on the cross, He took our place. He paid the penalty for our sin. He shone His light into the darkness and set us free If you would like to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ and receive His gift of eternal life, pray something like this:
Dear Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I believe you are the Son of God and that you have saved me. Please cleanse me of the darkness of sin in my heart, and replace it with your holy light. I want to live my life in a way that pleases you and shares your light with others. Amen.
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