December 21, 2008
Christmas in Babylon
For me, Christmas Day is anti-climactic. So much that I usually slip into clinical depression for about 24 hours. I’m not sure when it started to be like that but I think it began around the time we started having children. “Oh sure, blame it on the kids” you say, but really, I think that’s when it began. And anyway, I’ll remind you that someone very wise and childless once wrote “there are no bad children, only bad parents.” To be sure, I enjoy the season- the anticipation, the decorations, the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of Christmas. The shopping I could maybe do without but everything else I like. On Christmas Eve though, as we stuff the stockings, and barricade the tree with presents – that’s when it starts. It blooms in full the next morning - just after the kids have their melee of ripping open and pillaging the presents, when all that’s left are heaps and mounds of paper, instruction manuals, boxes, and warranty cards. I wade through the living room like it’s a battlefield, feeling a bit devastated and trying to decide what to do next. Then I surrender. I find that tin of cashews from my own stocking and start eating. I’ll usually make it half way through before I realize that I’m in a cashew-eating daze and standing like a statue in the middle of the room, clueless what to do. This forlorn feeling will find expression throughout the day in napping, more cashews, video games, and staring at the walls. I’ve reluctantly acquiesced to this phenomenon and even given it a name: “Christmas Mourn.” I don’t like it one bit and for years I wished it were different, though I’ve done nothing to change it.
Babylon was the greatest city in the world at one time. The ruins of Babylon are located just south of my location here in Iraq. The scriptures use Babylon as a symbol of the great antagonist of the Lord’s Kingdom and even today the term “Babylon” is used to symbolize the World and worldliness. I’m no Babylon wonk but I know enough to realize that this smacks a little of poetic justice and irony. This Christmas, I am in Babylon. This year will bring none of the festivities to which I’m so accustomed. There will be for me no fetching of and trimming the tree, no caroling, no wassail, and no tradition. There will be no vicarious joy in seeing the children buzz with excitement on Christmas morning. There will be no staring deeply into the eyes of my beautiful wife. In short, there will be none of the romance of Christmas. I’ll spend Christmas this year in a war-torn land where for the locals, survival is the order of the day, depravity is everywhere, and all are in need of a miracle. The Army will try to feed me a Christmas meal, but it won’t be the same. The turkey served for Thanksgiving dinner was a perfectly-shaped disc, having been cut from a “tube o’ turkey”. I’m sure there will be an equivalent “tube o’ ________” on Dec 25th. Are you starting to feel sorry for me? Well don’t because I deserve it. After squandering so many Christmases at home, I needed a good slap-in-the-face wake-up call. Quite simply, Christmas has been boiled down to the basics this year and I’ve been compelled to return to its nucleus.
What have I found? Well, for one thing, I’ve found more gratitude. Gratitude for the supportive friends and family I left behind. Gratitude for a fantastic wife and five great children. Gratitude for the freedom we enjoy in America. Gratitude for our Founding Fathers who spent their lives in the service of God and Country. But those aren’t Christmas-y themes, you say?! Those are things one should be grateful for year-round, I know. Well, I’ve also found what the Grinch found after he stole Christmas and then it came anyway for the Whos down in Whoville; that you don’t need stuff for Christmas. But there’s more. Lots more. I figured out that Christmas at it’s core is about Christ. Always a little slow on the uptake, I realized that on the eve of His birth, there was no tree and there were no presents and there was no great feast – not even a turkey disc. Mary and Joseph must have known something of depravity and oppression for she gave birth in a Manger, in a land occupied by a foreign government. On the day of His birth, I’m sure Joseph didn’t walk about in a daze, eating cashews, wondering what’s next. He must have felt the magnitude of the great event, the Advent of the Savior of the World. They both must have been at once profoundly humbled and grateful, for to Mary had been born the great Miracle for all generations. They probably spent the day in wonder, awe, gratitude and not a little trepidation for the great task ahead of raising the Son of God. They probably looked forward that day with a renewed hope for the future of mankind.
Hopefully I will have learned my lesson this year and celebrate Christmas as intended. Hopefully, I will never return to Christmas in Babylon and there will never be another Christmas Mourn. - NTT.