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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Celebrating Christmas
December 28, 2006

      Home for the holidays!  I arrived in Chicago Friday morning, and my wife and children (who took the day off from school to come meet me) picked me up at O’Hare Airport.  I’ve been pretty much relaxing at home since then (although it’s not all relaxing - I’ve been busy at home as well!).

      When I first came home, it was apparent I had been away for awhile (I tend to be the disciplinarian who makes kids clean up after themselves, etc.).  It was also apparent that the family had been waiting for me to come home in order to decorate, and Christmas was two days away.  So we raced to finish decorating (I had to tell my wife that we wouldn’t decorate as much this year, due to time constraints), cleaned up the house a bit, and finished shopping for Christmas dinner.

      It dawned on me during this time that my family had seen my time away as being temporary.  They knew I was coming back home soon.  When I leave next time, it will be different, especially for them - I won’t be back again for a long time.

      Christmas itself was different this year.  It came and went so fast!  I enjoyed going to church Christmas Eve morning and evening.  I’ll admit I’ve become a bit of a “celebrity” at our local church, where I used to be a member of the Session (in the Presbyterian denomination, the session is the governing body of the local congregation.  Those members elected to be on the Session are ordained as elders of the church, as I had been several years ago).  Everyone kept telling me how good it was to see me again, and asked how things were going for me.

      For me personally, Christmas is really the church service, “Christ’s Mass” from the original Catholic roots of our Christian heritage.  The packages and gifts are more for the children to me and my wife, so I get as much enjoyment out of the church service on Christmas Eve as I do on Christmas morning.  A different kind of enjoyment, perhaps, but a deep and sincere feeling of joy and blessing from reflecting on the true meaning of this season - that the Creator of our world somehow joined with and became part of the creation, in the unique person of Jesus Christ, a humble baby born to a homeless couple.  If we need any proof that God is on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the powerless, we need look no further than the story of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus was all of these.  This is why the historic Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is so powerful and gives so much hope to the world - in Jesus, God became poor, oppressed and powerless, just like the lowliest of us.

      Of course, Christmas day is a happy day at our house as well, particularly for our kids.  My wife and I spend way too much money every year, getting things that our kids want the most (fortunately, our children have figured out that we can’t buy everything they ever want, so they keep some semblance of reality on their gift requests).  It’s fun to watch the kids tear into their wrapped packages, sending out squeals of delight when they find the gift they’ve really wanted and have been waiting for, sometimes for months.  Every year, they insist the latest Christmas was their best Christmas ever.  It’s what makes being a parent worthwhile.

      My wife and I typically give small gifts to each other, because we’ve spent most our money on the kids’ gifts.  I bought everyone Army-related sweatshirts this year, and my wife got a “Proud Army Wife” T-shirt, along with a locket with an Army seal on it.  My wife helped my kids find a blanket that says, “The greatest gift I ever had comes from God, I call him Dad!”  (Of course, it will go with me to Afghanistan when I go.)

      Being back home, I have found all those things I left unfinished before I left, which have been looming in my mind these past few days.  I will try to finish some of them.  Unfortunately, many will remain unfinished when I leave again.  I realize this, and feel some guilt about it, but I can’t change the fact that many things will have to be turned over to my wife (again) when I leave.

      I must mention the efforts of one of the wives of one of our team members - her name is Christine (I won’t mention her last name, for privacy reasons), and her husband is a member of our group.  She has volunteered to serve as a family liaison to our families at home.  She has written newsletters and sent out information via e-mail to our families top give them resources and encouragement while we are gone.  She has been a real gem, and her time and help have been a great encouragement to all of us.

      As we look towards the New Year, I wish all of you (and all of us) the best blessings God has to offer.

-- Jeff Courter

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.