Most of us recall the joy and excitement we experienced as young children singing Christmas carols and happy birthday to Jesus while waiting to see what gifts Santa would leave under our tree. How many times did my siblings and I resolve to catch the jolly old man in the act only to fall fast asleep – many hours later than Mom and Dad would have liked? Strange how we could not quite understand why they looked so tired as we exploded into their bedroom at 3 A.M. and at fifteen minute intervals thereafter until they finally conceded defeat, crawled out of bed, and witnessed our glee and excitement.
After becoming parents ourselves, we acquired a greater appreciation for the many sacrifices Mom and Dad had made to bring joy to our silly trusting little hearts. Of course, Christmas was not Christmas unless we went to Church, left a gift, and had a special dinner. Those of us blessed with such precious memories have done our best to re-create them for our own children and grandchildren. I treasure all those memories. There have been, however, several unique Christmases that helped me better understand the reason for celebrating Christ’s birth. Three of them stand out in my mind.
In 1968 I was more than 8000 miles from home, in a nation at war. We spent much of a brutally hot and humid day, filling sandbags to reinforce our sagging bunkers, only to spend most of that night in those same shelters, seeking to shield ourselves from a seemingly unending barrage of rocket and mortar fire. The night was not silent. There was no peace; little good will was evident. This is what happens when men forget the Prince of Peace.
Fifteen years later, some 20 miles from home, I found myself surrounded by an ocean of razor wire and unwelcoming prison staff, upset they had to be on duty instead of being with their families. The inmates we came to visit, on the other hand, radiated the joy and peace of the Season, appreciative that someone cared enough to come as a representative of a merciful and forgiving God. Tears of gratitude for this gesture of love flowed from Juan’s eyes, as he handed me a Christmas card. It had cost him $2.50, his entire weekly salary. It was my turn to cry.
In 2007, our son came home for Christmas. How excited my wife and I were to pick him up at theRochester airport Christmas Eve, his cross country flight so long delayed because of wintry weather conditions. What a great Christmas gift was Joe! We enjoyed his company as we chatted nonstop during the drive home, arriving there at 1 A.M. He was exhausted. It was difficult to just drop Joe off there and immediately leave but we had a long anticipated commitment to fulfill. Our son understood that a magnificent gift awaited his parents just a mile away. It was quiet and peaceful as we entered the Adoration Chapel in our Church where for the next two hours we were blessed to celebrate Christmas with and to be in the presence of the Prince of Peace.