It's been a tough and trying year, hasn't it? The global recession is the deepest and broadest in recent history, and people are frustrated with the government's responses to it - either it's too much or it's not enough. The national and state credit cards are nearly maxed out but our elected leaders want to do more with phantom dollars, an accounting trick we individual consumers can't use. We are still a nation at war and will be for the foreseeable future, and some say it's too much and others not enough. Ordinary citizens are called racist, "un-American" or worse for exercising their First Amendment rights, and the divide between elitists and ordinary Americans, statists and libertarians, liberals and conservatives, has become an ocean that's too stormy to cross.
I'm sure it's been rough in our homes; I know it has been in mine. Job losses, job changes, salary cuts, car accidents, car expenses, health issues, struggles to find our purpose, tensions between loved ones - we've had it all. At one point, my wife looked at me in frustration after our third major unexpected car expense, which wiped out the emergency savings we were trying to build and the Christmas money my mother-in-law so generously sent us, and said, "Life officially s**ks (sorry, that word still hasn't been crossed off my list of "bad" words)!
Our church small group, a family as close-knit and loving as any bound by blood if not more so, suffered a terrible loss this year with the unexpected death of our leader and friend, Gary Mullen. He was, quite simply, a man after God's own heart, and while we loved him dearly and miss him so much, his wife and children are hurting the most of all. Our group is rallying around Theresa, his wife, and the kids to be their source of strength during the holidays, but it hurts our hearts to know what she must feel in those quiet moments when she is left alone to her thoughts and dreams.
Our entire church community feels the sting of Gary's sudden passing, and our Christmas celebration, always the most joyous conclusion to the year, is going to be tinged with sadness because he's not there performing, singing and celebrating, pouring out his gifts and blessing everyone who walks through those church doors on December 24th. He was a force of nature during the holidays, and we won't have the joy and laughter of him singing karaoke tunes, especially songs from "Grease," at our house on New Year's Eve.
But still, in the midst of all of this, "unto us a child is born." You don't have to be a person of faith to be affected by the baby born in Bethlehem.
I remember as a U.S. Air Force intelligence watch officer in Germany how quiet it got in the Warsaw Pact at Christmas time. Despite the fact communism denies God and glorifies man, even our enemies seemed to stand down during the holiday season. It would have been a perfect time for the enemies of freedom to launch an attack, but still, in the tension of the Cold War, "unto us a child is born."
The stories are told of how the Allied and Axis forces in World War I declared a truce on Christmas Day despite opposition from the higher levels of command, and they actually crossed the battle lines that divided them to exchange gifts, drink together, and properly bury their dead as both sides mourned them together. For a brief moment, the hostilities were set aside and their commonality as people who all shared the image of God - imago deo - took hold. "Unto us a child is born."
It's been a hard year for so many people, and the year ahead has challenges aplenty. But one of the reasons I love this time of year is that the possibility of reconciliation and peace seems greater, and even if it's only an illusion, it's a welcome one in the midst of such strife. My prayer for you is that you take the time to stop and let that possibility capture your heart, if only for a little while.
The time to fight will surely come, and we must all do what our convictions tell us to do. But "unto us a child is born." Let's take a moment and listen to the cries of this amazing baby who changed the world and gave all of us hope, a hope that even those who do not believe in Him as the only begotten son of God can feel and experience this holiday season.
I'm going to take a little time, but not a lot, away from my columns here and elsewhere on the Internet. Besides preparing for the holidays, I have a book I'm writing and I'd like to make some meaningful progress on it so it can be published sometime soon. I'd appreciate your well wishes for that endeavor, one for which I have high hopes and request your prayers.
Please accept my family's best wishes this holiday season, however you may choose to celebrate it. As for me and my house, we declare, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" We'll see you in 2010.