Ever since I returned from Iraq in 2008 Christmas has become a much more melancholy season for me. I love the Advent and Christmas season where we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation when God condescended to be born of a woman in the fullness of time. For me I have always found Christmas to be the most important part of the liturgical year because as I see it you don’t get to the Resurrection of Christ at Easter unless you start with the Incarnation where God becomes vulnerable. The Triune God becomes vulnerable because he elects to become incarnate by sending Jesus who comes to us in the weakness of a baby born in a time of persecution to a young mother and father. For me it was always Christ’s coming that was the great mystery of faith.
No it still is but the observance for me has shifted in focus and not due to any doctrinal changes in my life, but because of war and the cumulative effect of seeing too many young men and women die at a young age. The effect of seeing devastated cities and towns and maimed children. The effect of images of wounded Marines at TQ Surgical, burned, bleeding and not knowing if they lived or died after they left us sometimes haunts my attempts to sleep.
Thursday we said goodbye to yet another young sailor who died far too young, a sailor who was loved and appreciated by his shipmates and who had accomplished much during his life. I had met the young man a couple of times since reporting on board in late October and from everything that I had heard and seen he was a man that lived life and accomplished much in his all too short life here on Earth.
War has made me much more reflective and a bit melancholy at Christmas. Three years ago I was bouncing around the western deserts of Iraq visiting advisors in isolated places and celebrating Christmas with them even while going out with them on missions. I have to say that I miss that camaraderie. In the years after I struggled with faith itself becoming for all purposes an agnostic struggling desperately to discover God again. This year I can say that faith has returned but at the same time my heart goes out to my friends and comrades that are deployed in harm’s way, those that near the scars of war and those that have paid the ultimate price. When I see the grieving mother of one of these men or women at a memorial service it reminds me of the price paid by so many.
This is also my first Christmas without my dad. I know that last year he was suffering with Alzheimer’s and did not recognize me in November of 2009 when I last saw him alive but when I addressed my mother’s Christmas Card his death was fresh again as for the first time I addressed a Christmas card to her alone.
Last night was difficult, I slept little. I am glad to be home with Judy. We opened our presents and watched in amusement as our little dog Molly went through her Christmas ritual of unwrapping her presents. In the morning we shall celebrate a Christmas Day Mass at home as we are both rather tired and we shall wait for the snow that the weather guessers say is coming.
Yes for me this Christmas is a bit melancholy but not without faith or hope. Someday the wars will be over and men shall beat their swords into plowshares and we will know the Prince of Peace.
Merry Christmas my friends and I pray that the coming year be filled with joy.