Christmas Eve

This evening people of varied and no religious tradition, for many different reasons, will celebrate something that happened a long time ago in a place that for many of us is far away, but for some is very close, the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. This has been impacting the world ever since, and continues to do so  today. It has been the occasion for conflicts often in the past, and as it is in our day, battles fought over the right way to think of and name God.

One Christmas Eve from a while back has had, and still has today, great impact on me. In 1970 in Vietnam a week before Christmas I made a decision that ended up costing three young soldiers their lives. In brief, they asked me to get involved in a personnel matter concerning their upcoming assignment. I chose not to do so because personnel matters did not concern me, or so I thought. Back then I was a brand new young chaplain and thought I knew what I was doing and had all the answers. Christmas Eve morning I flew out to recover their bodies and did what had to be done. That afternoon while preparing for masses on the firebase I stoped by the BDE CDR’s place and told him I felt this tragedy was my fault. When I told him what had happened, he asked why I didn’t do something. told him I chose not to get involved because personnel matters did not concern me. He said, “Chaplain, anything that affects your people in any way concerns you, and don’t you ever forget it!”. “Yes sir!” His remark was for me a life-changing experience. I had a phone conversation with him this afternoon as I do every Christmas Eve. It seems to me that, thanks to Warrior 6, this reflects how Jesus lived when he was among us. Everything that affected people in any way was his concern, and he did what had to be done. This ultimately cost him his life. And so it has to be with any of us who would profess to be his followers. It can’t be about me, only about grace happening in me for others.

The world Jesus was born into was violent, as is ours today on a much grander scale. We are surrounded by violence and suffering. Mary and Joseph chose to be open to God being God, and so Jesus came among us. More and more I am convinced that God is still happening among us now. This doesn’t make sense in what is going on. Good is happening is being done by people. Evil, too, is being done by people. In our tradition we don’t try to understand something so we can believe, we believe in order to understand. Faith is not belief about, but belief in. If I believe everything somehow is of God, where do I go, what do I do? What choice do I make?

Can I look to Mary and Joseph? They believed God was calling them to something and took the chance to go where their belief took them. What chances am I willing to take? We live in a very polarized time for our country and our church. Perhaps it can be summed up as anyone who doesn’t see things as I do is wrong and I can make them pay for what they think. Expressing an opinion can generate lots of bad energy. We see this happening now with Pope Francis saying priests can bless persons in same sex relationships. This is fast becoming a major issue for the church with people on all sides of the issue claiming to speak in God’s name. Charity is forgotten by many. Then, too, there is the violence happening around the world, even close to home. People with no connection to the violence other than being its victims are suffering terribly. 

If I believe everything somehow points to God, now what? As a young Army Chaplain I felt I had all the answers and knew what to do. Now, as an old retired chaplain, it is clear to me how little I know about anything. With old age comes wisdom, or so the saying goes. Maybe my old age wisdom is how unwise I really am about anything. Mary and Joseph took the chance and trusted in God. They made the journey, which we heavily romanticize to keep it nice and far away so we don’t let it affect us too much. I’m aware that I’m on a journey, especially lately, but I don’t know to where or what. Not sure how to handle this. God is real in so many ways. I’m constantly amazed at all this. I’m coming to understand in a very practical way the importance of choice. Mary and Joseph chose to follow what they thought God was was calling them to. If they hadn’t chosen to do this, what would things be like today? The Wise Men chose to make their long journey to meet Jesus. If I hadn’t chosen to take the nitro pill, where would I be? Is “where” a good word? Maybe “how” is better. Don’t even want to think about the choice I made in Vietnam.

This might bring me to prayer, not to convince God, but to leads me to be open to God being God in everything, maybe at times even needing my to help. I’ve learned that if I try to reach out to God in my every day living, God responds powerfully and personally, though not always with the response I want or when I want it. Often I become aware of this only in looking back at my journey. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

We are ending Advent, a season of expectation and waiting for many things. I lose a lot if I limit my waiting to recalling what is past. God is always with me now, often well hidden, even, or especially, in my stupid, wrong, and dangerous choices. Christmas shows God loves each of us and all of us as we are. This can be a very personal matter that, if I choose to take it seriously, can be tough. Am I willing to recognize God loving all of us everywhere even where it seems to make no sense? What about the people bringing harm and suffering to so many? Or people I just can’t stand for whatever reason? Or people who can’t stand me? I’ve spent a good part of my life with people of many religions and of no religion. There’ve been some challenges, but overall it was clear that people who think different from how I think, are good persons trying to live life well, often no easy thing, sometimes misguided. The hope Christmas offers is not that things will turn out as I want, but that God is with me in everything in ways that often I don’t get. I don’t have to understand, since my capability is so limited. I need to believe, to trust, to journey, to act, and do all this with whatever I have in any situation. And this is good. Wouldn’t change a thing. Just sayin  .  .  .