Surprisingly, when I think of past Christmas’ one of the one’s that pops into my mind is the one I spent alone in Vietnam. It was 1967 and I was on guard duty on Christmas Eve; four hours on, four hours off, four hours on at the end of the runway in DaNang. But I was determined that I was going to spend the next day, Christmas, awake and celebrating. It started off fine but by 10 am I’m sleeping the day away. So much for my plans and celebration. I remember being thoroughly depressed, homesick, and very much alone and sleep seemed the best way to avoid those painful feelings. My expectations once again not met. I believe it was the sense of aloneness that overwhelmed me most though surrounded by many Marines feeling the same way (being men it never dawned on us to talk about our feelings). That’s been a major struggle for me all my life and especially at Christmas, setting my expectations too high. So high that neither me nor anyone else can meet them.
But was that the issue or is it something else? Perhaps I remember that Christmas because it helps me recall how much God has blessed me or how much He’s changed me since then. But have I really changed? There’s an old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think that may be true here. Perhaps that overwhelming sense of aloneness I experienced over there, if I’m honest, I experience here as well. Wherever I go I’m constantly amazed at us people, that though surrounded by others, have that same look of aloneness. I think that look’s called despair and I think more of us have it than care to admit it. And, I know if I keep myself busy doing stuff/things, then I can hold the hounds of despair at bay. That’s exactly why I’m reluctant to retire and why so many retirees I meet hate retirement. There’s nothing to keep us busy.
At Christmas we come face to face with what’s important and what’s not and we see that all our hopes and dreams are wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. It’s at Christmas time that we face the truth that just as Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose, gambled on baseball games and it cost him admittance into baseball’s Hall of Fame; so many of us are gambling on staying busy and having the most toys in the hopes that they will give our lives meaning and purpose. Sadly, though, until Pete Rose and Us come to grips with our “gambling” problem, none of us are going to see what the true meaning of Christmas is. On this day in the City of David the Messiah came as the only gift that ultimately matters. But it’s up to us to accept it. And if we do, we’ll see that all the busyness and toys in the world, don’t bring happiness. But rather, admitting that we need The Present, allow Him to unwrap us, and pour the living water into us is the ultimate meaning of life. And that present comes at Christmas, no matter what day of the year it is. Merry Christmas.