Christmas can transcend circumstances when we remember that the reason for the season is Jesus!
Washington, DC (Catholic Online) - This was not my Christmas in 1969. As a part of the United States Navy, I was stationed on the USS Theodore E. Chandler, DD-717, in the waters just off the coast of Vietnam.
The action on the “gun line” had been intense. Located in a combat zone, we were all working 12 hour shifts and quite weary. Word had come down, however, that a 24-hour cease-fire had been agreed upon beginning at 1800 Hours (6pm) on Christmas Eve. We were going to have some time to stand down.
My parents had sent a small two-foot artificial tree and some ornaments early that fall. The fake Douglas Fir arrived in plenty of time to be placed at the entrance of the radio room, where I spent a lot of my time.
As anticipated, six o’clock came followed by an eerie silence. We had a cease-fire.
After dinner I returned to my bunk and began to slowly leaf through an album of photos my parents had enclosed with the tree. The images inside reminded me of the Christmases I had enjoyed in the past: the nativity scene at the fountain in our downtown area, the Magi on their camels approaching the manger from across the street, the illuminated carolers standing tall and wooden, the Christmas tree in our living room, and my family.
A lingering emptiness began to overtake me. This was not Christmas Eve; it was just December 24 – another arbitrary date on the calendar. Christmas may return again in the next few years, if I safely return home. For now, all celebration is temporarily suspended.
I am still not sure why, but later that night many of us gathered in the Combat Information Center (CIC). With no missions underway, CIC was fairly quiet. It was a great place to talk, trying to overshadow our individual loneliness.
Just then, one of the sailors pushed the “talk” lever on the ship’s intercom and began to sing “Silent Night.” It didn’t take long for all of us to join in. We became ship-wide carolers, singing every song we could possibly remember – “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Around our destroyer you could hear others beginning to join in. We were joined together in a celebration… in a common focus on a child in the manger.
At that moment, Christmas was no longer a sentimental observance I was missing in Marshall, Michigan. It was a transcendent celebration, recognizing that our Lord truly came to earth and lived His life among us. Christmas became bigger, greater, and more powerful to me than ever before.
These are the times when we best understand the Nativity and the power of His coming. While there are wonderful traditions that we can embrace around the world at this time of year, Jesus is truly the reason for the season. If we leave him behind, we have a hollow day not a holy day.
This year’s observance may not be the ideal Christmas for many of us. The economy, job security, Iraq, and other issues can easily obscure our sense of “joy to the world.” We are not experiencing “yuletide carols being sung by a fire,” as the song has gone out of our lives.
The first coming of Christ took place at a time when the life for the chosen people of God was hard. They were oppressed and, as the Scriptures said, “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”
The first song of Christmas, which began with the angels, was a one visited upon the world – it didn’t begin here. Christ had come to redeem the world and God sent a song to confirm this wondrous gift of salvation.
Like others throughout the generations of world history, we are also the harassed and helpless. We are in need of a shepherd.
We have the opportunity of joining in with the song of Christmas. It doesn’t begin with us; it begins with Him. He is the reason for the song, he is the reason for the season.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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