Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9
Not every Christmas is merry and bright. I suppose if we live long enough all of us will experience a Christmas that is not so merry. Life can be difficult and when those difficulties occur around the holidays, it can be difficult indeed. I remember 1972 which was my first Christmas in the Air Force. I managed to get leave and fly home from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. When I arrived home, the house was dark and empty. There were no decorations, no tree. My father had suffered yet another big heart attack and he was in the hospital recovering. It was hard.
Another time that Christmas had a dark shadow was December 1978. Judy and I were stationed in Sembach, Germany. It was a great place to live and it seemed that every day was an adventure. We were living off base in an apartment, a short drive from the base. Just living in a German village was an adventure in itself. The heat did not come on until October 1 of each year, no matter how cold it was and the heat didn’t go off until May 1, no matter how warm it was. There was no air conditioning, which we didn’t need anyway. In one of our apartments, I especially remember the small two gallon hot water heater. It called for a very quick shower. Judy had long hair in those days and it was a race to get her and her hair washed before her two gallons of warm water were up.
We also didn’t have a phone. Of course, cell phones were a long way in the future and land lines were very expensive. In December of 1978 we were sound asleep when we heard a sharp knock on the door. It must have been about 1:00 am in the morning. I went to the door to find the officer of the day for my squadron. He was there to let me know I had a call from the Red Cross and I needed to call them immediately. He followed me to the base and from my office I made the call. The Red Cross made arrangements for me to call my brother and sister-in-law in Florida. The message was short and to the point. My sister-in-law Sonia said, “Dewayne, honey, if you want to see your Mama while she is still alive, you need to come home right away.” I was shocked. I had no idea that she was sick—especially not that sick.
Well, when you are thousands of miles from home across the Atlantic nothing happens quickly. But as fast as the wheels could turn and with a lot of help from the Red Cross and the Air Force, Judy and I were able to catch a transport aircraft back to the States. It landed at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, December 3rd. My brother, who lived in New Jersey, was able to pick us up and together we drove south to Jacksonville. It was a long day’s journey and we got there Monday afternoon. We went straight to the hospital and were able to see Mama for a few minutes. We then went to my brother’s house to get some rest.
That evening we gathered together, visited, and prayed. We told God that whatever He wanted was ok. If He chose to heal Mama of that cancer, that was great but if He chose to heal her by taking her home…that was ok too. The next day He answered our prayer. Mama went to heaven—less than 24 hours after we got there. It was Tuesday, December 5th and she was 62 and I was only 24. Well, we planned the service and celebrated her life and worshiped her God and our God. We had some family business to take care of and when that was finished, so were we. Judy and I had enough leave approved to stay for Christmas, but the truth was there was no reason to stay. There was not a home place any more, so we decided to go back to our home—in Germany. In a few days, we were back and celebrated Christmas knowing that it would never really be the same again.
I can’t tell you it wasn’t hard because it was. I was grateful we had a couple of weeks before Christmas, but it was still the season. It felt strange to leave a home that wasn’t home anymore. As much as we loved Germany, we realized when we got back to the States 18 months later, there would be no going home for Christmas. And then God, via the Air Force, planted us in Missouri for a few years and then a whole lot of years in Illinois. He also called me to pastor so that meant Christmas was here every year. And do you know what? That was ok because God gave us a new family to love and care for us. That family was His people wherever He placed us to serve.
No, every Christmas is not merry and bright and we (who have some sense of normal this Christmas) need to remember those whose life is anything but normal this year. It may be the loss of a loved one, it may be loss of health or a job, or it just may be this COVID-19 mess. But like the Bible says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”
So these days and especially in these days, we need to love one another. And, just like that night in December when my brothers and sisters came together and told God whatever He wanted for Mama was ok…we need to come together and tell Him whatever the future looks like, we will trust Him with that, too. I’m so grateful that He is faithful, that He is good, and that He can be trusted. And because of that, He’s got this.