Friday, December 30, 2016

First Christmas as a New Christian

First Christmas as a New Christian Serving in the Canadian Military

As a member of the Canadian military in the early 1980s, I was posted to a small base in northern Canada (CFS Alert, on the northerneastern tip of Ellesmere Island, about 800 km from the North Pole - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alert,_Nunavut) toward the end of the year. The timing of the posting meant that I would be spending my first Christmas as a Christian in Alert; it had only been a few months since I had accepted Christ. As a relatively new Christian I was unfamiliar with the cultural trappings of Christianity, especially with regard to Christmas and Advent, aside from a familiarity with the generally secular conventions of Christmas (e.g., Santa, trees, and the first verse of a few carols).

I had no clear strong idea of what “Christmas” meant from a Christian perspective. In that small military establishment (about 200 people), there were few resources to consider the nature and meaning of the Christmas season from an overtly Christian perspective. However, exploring the small local radio and TV station, which operated on vinyl LP (long playing) records and videotapes, I came across 2 record albums that served as my introduction to the theology and celebration of the Christmas season. The 2 albums were Gentle Night: Music for Advent and Christmas, by the St. Louis Jesuits and Winter’s coming Home, by the Benedictine Monks of Weston Priory. Not being of aware of Christmas albums by contemporary Christian artists, the music of these 2 albums became the foundation for my understanding and celebration of the advent and Christmas season. The music on both albums consists almost entirely of plain voice with guitar accompaniment (with some harmony/choral elements and scripture readings). Their sparse aesthetics and elegant message were quite influential on me; these 2 albums still constitute the music and message that I associate with Christmas and the Advent season.

From Winter’s coming Home, by the Monks of Weston Priory, I learned the power of (a small) Christian community, brought together in love, in simply telling and celebrating the message of Christmas. From Gentle Night: Music for Advent and Christmas, by the St. Louis Jesuits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFso98Kd2LI&index=1&list=PLSVAOIe-ZuDIn-EalQI1QTmSaqh-ro2BN), I gained an understanding of and appreciation for the appearance of a joyous redemptive event in the midst of a dark time. Consider the situation in Palestine at the time of the birth of Christ – the intermittently independent Jewish kingdom(s) were occupied by invaders (i.e., the Romans) directly or as client states, and were under increasing pressure by Hellenistic influences. Into this situation, God acted. Quoting from the song, Exult, You Just Ones, the last song on the Jesuit’s album.

For the Lord reveals his power, 
the Lord comes as a lamb, 
the Lord is born as a man. Yahweh, the Mighty One says this: 

Behold, I make all things new.
A new day has dawned for the nations of the earth. Let all creation rejoice.
Exult you just ones in the Lord,
Let hills and mountains be shaken by your song,
For the Lord walks among us in our land.

This message presents what appears to be a common approach by God, bringing light into the darkness (e.g., John 1). Whether we talk about the birth of Jesus in a dark time, or Jesus’ Resurrection in the midst of the darkness and despair occasioned by his death, the light of God’s work is sometimes starkest and most clearly seen in the midst of darkness. Of course, the breaking in of God’s redemptive action in the midst of our world, especially a world in darkness, leads to joy – the rejoicing or exultation of people as they respond to God’s redemption. May this season be a time for rejoicing for you.

Steven Hajduk
Former Salvation Army Officer
Canada


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