USS Russell at Pearl Harbor, Christmas 2007

For many of us there will be much to celebrate this Christmas. Family, friends, parties, dinners. Gifts, food, drink, music. Trees, Santa Clause, Rudolph, Frosty. And of course, the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. For many of us this will be a very happy time of year.

But for some of us, this will be our first Christmas without a very special person in our lives. In fact, there are a probably a few of us, and one day this will be all of us, for whom this will be our own final Christmas. Even more tragically for some, even at this late date, last year will prove to have been our final Christmas.

Today is December 7th, and it marks the 68th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks which drew America directly into World War II. For many around the world at that time, it had already been a time of loss, and for many more it was a time of concern for loved ones fighting in the war.

For Americans waking up and heading out to church on that fateful Sunday morning it was a time of growing concern. And yet to that point, we were not directly involved in the fighting that was happening in Europe. Most were still looking forward to the coming of Christmas in a few weeks. For some, it would mark the return home, even if just briefly, of their family members and friends serving on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

What many of those brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, medical and other personnel stationed at Pearl did not know was that they were waking up to their final moments in this life. They had already celebrated their final Christmas here on earth, and not a single one of them realized it at that point.

There are many people who think that this is too maudlin a topic for discussion. This is a time for buying presents, decorating homes and trees, wrapping gifts, planning family get-togethers. It is most certainly no time to think about someone getting sick or dying. These people are absolutely correct, and that is definitely not what I am advocating by bringing up the subject.

What I am pointing out is a simple fact: this will be the final Christmas for many people, including many who have no idea of it, and who have no reason to believe that would be so at this point. But even if only in the backs of our minds, everyone knows that one day their own final Christmas will come along.

The point of this topic is to again bring home the idea of the true meaning of Christmas. For the vast majority of us, this is not our wedding anniversary, nor is it our birthday. This is the season that we celebrate the gift that God Himself gave to us all in the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The celebration of Christmas is something that we need to make room for in our hearts, no matter what our personal experiences may be at this time. Is someone that you know, perhaps even yourself, very sick and possibly dying? Celebrate Christmas. Has someone that you loved been taken from you this past year, perhaps suddenly? Celebrate Christmas.

When I say that we should celebrate Christmas despite our circumstances, I am not necessarily saying that you should get out and live it up. I am not saying that you need to drink and dance and make merry. What I am saying is that you fully and deeply in your heart and mind recognize the meaning of Christmas, and find a way to keep the season holy.

Perhaps your loss or illness has caused you to not decorate as you normally would, or not buy gifts as you normally would, or not attend a holiday party as you normally would. Again, no one is saying that you have to operate as if nothing is different this year. But there are alternatives.

Ask a close friend or family member to help you put a few small decorations and lights around your home. They will be more than happy to help you. Go online and buy a few special people a small holiday flower arrangement. Go to church instead of going to a party. Pray to God for direction and healing during a time that has you reflecting more on past happiness than on the present.

Mostly, draw on those many happy memories that we all have of Christmas past. Times shared with parents and spouses, children and grandchildren, friends and lovers. Enjoy some quiet time listening to holiday music, watching Christmas specials on television, and simply opening our hearts in quiet time to God, thanking him for his own special gift to us.

This might very well be our last Christmas together. Perhaps last year already was. That would indeed be tragic in many respects. But it would not be nearly as tragic as our having spent our final Christmas together, and then whichever of us has survived not allowing ourselves to again celebrate a merry and happy Christmas.

For the families of the service persons who died on December 7th, 1941 the final Christmas together had already been spent. I am quite sure that December 25th, 1941 was a sad day in many homes. But 68 Christmas Days have past since, and my bet is that the vast majority of those families have learned to move on and again celebrate in the true Christmas spirit.

That is what their loved ones lost on that fateful day which lives in infamy would have wanted. It is what your own loved ones would want for you and your families today. It is certainly what we would want if it were we who passed on to our glory in God’s kingdom in Heaven. Let’s enjoy our last Christmas together, whenever that may be…and the one after…and the one after…and the one…

NOTE: The image accompanying this story is of the USS Russell, a guided missile destroyer which won the 2007 first prize in the annual holiday ship-lighting contest at Pearl Harbor


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