In 1941 during a brief last leave for Christmas, I met Irene. Her image went with me across the North Atlantic that February, ice on the deck of our tiny troop ship, U-boats not far away. For the next 31/2 years — in Ireland, North Africa and Italy — she was present in photos, letters and imagination. We married in 1945.
This is the gift of broad shoulders: We can bear life's loads because God blesses us with beloved others.
Advent in 2003 is no darker than in 1941, surely no darker than at the time before Jesus' birth. Richard Horsley writes in The Liberation of Christmas (Continuum, 1993): Herod ruled over "what today would be called a police-state, complete with loyalty oaths, surveillance, informers, secret police, imprisonment, torture, and brutal retaliation against any serious dissent." Into this dysfunctional culture God sent Jesus, expressing the power of sacrificial love to lift the burden of existence for others. It is a fallen world, the realist says sadly: It always will be. But Advent announces God's entry into our human muddle, which empowers us to do something. This is a great gift of Christmas.
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