23 December 2007

Christmas Traditions

Most people know I'm a military brat. More specifically, an Army brat. This means that my family moves around - a lot. My dad's been in the Army for about seventeen years. In that time, my family has moved eight times. We've spent Christmas in eight different houses. Actually, we've only spent it in seven different houses. When we lived in New Jersey, we didn't get there until after the holiday. Instead, that Christmas was spent in guest quarters. Occasionally, we would travel and see family, but most of the time we were to far away to make the trip.

This year, we are "breaking in" a new house in Korea. That means that, as a college student, I'm celebrating Christmas in a house that I saw for the first time about a week ago.

With all of this moving around, Christmas isn't really about being "home" for the holidays. Home is wherever dad happens to be stationed. Going to see extended family isn't really home because I didn't grow up around them. Going to my parents' house really isn't home because, as my mom puts it, I come in the door and hear, "Welcome home! Let me show you where your bedroom is."

Instead, celebrating Christmas is really more about the traditions my family has set over the years. Being with the family, regardless of where we are. Going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Taking all day to open our gifts (you think I'm kidding, but we always find a way to stretch it out until after dinner). Opening our gifts in a certain order. Getting gifts from "Santa". Eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Listening to my dad tell us the story of "Eliezer the Unreliable". Listening to my mom read The Polar Express on Christmas Eve.

As I said, this is my first Christmas in Korea. And I'm enjoying getting to explore a new country. And I'm happy that my friend from high school, Kurt, is over here too. But really, I'm just excited that my family's traditions make me feel at home halfway across the world.

Rock on.
Merry Christmas.

Eliezer the Unreliable

"Eliezer the Unreliable" is a sermon my dad wrote and has always been very important to my family and I.

His reading it has become something of a Christmas tradition at my house.




Advent is drawing to a close and this week, and - well, at least according to the devotional book I'm working with this year* - the candle of the Prince of Peace was lit. Oddly enough, I am typing this on a military base in South Korea. I cannot and will not go into detail about precautions taken to secure the base, but let's just say that while the fighting is over, the peninsula is still very tense.

Quickly browsing the news shows that we do not live in a peaceful world. Recent violence and crackdowns in Pakistan and Burma, continuing hostilities in Kosovo and Israel, multiple civil wars in Africa (Sudan and Uganda come to mind), and US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide plenty of evidence that we have a long way to go before world peace is achievable. And that peace will, unfortunately, probably be heralded by war.

So how can we say that the Prince of Peace has come? This very same Prince was violently killed by the Romans. For nearly all of its existence, some part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, has used violence to achieve its goals - the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, and even preaching that God was responsible for 9/11. The leaders of the Church who practice nonviolence are killed - Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Stephen.

Surely this cannot be the Peace promised in Isaiah.

And it's not.

The peace we hope for, the peace that Christ will bring, will come with his return. Advent is as much about the return of Christ as it is about his birth in Bethlehem. The Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counselor, God With Us, will come again and usher in a new kingdom, a new age. Tears will be wiped away and swords will be beaten into plows. As Peanuts creator Charles Schultz famously put it, "The beagles and bunnies will lie down together."

Rock on.
*Advent liturgy is weird. Different churches and denominations assign different meanings to the candles and weeks, light them in different orders, and so on. Confusing? Yes. But as long as everyone in the congregation is on the same page and use the time as a period of preparation and looking forward to Christmas, it's all good.
PS: The title of the post comes from Matisyahu's album Youth. "Shalom" and "saalam" are the Hebrew and Arabic words for "peace".