Though Christmas Day has come and gone, some of its remnants still linger in our midst, as we pass around specially sewn stockings filled with lotion, shaving cream, and laundry detergent and continue to munch on the hundreds of cookies that were mailed to us for our holiday party. The Army may not recognize the “Twelve days of Christmas,” but Task Force Viper is enjoying a little extra cheer this week. Whether it is a stocking filled with goodies, a Christmas pillow case, or a needed sugar rush which helps stave off drowsiness, we have all been reminded through the generosity we have experienced throughout the holidays that we are loved and supported by many, family and strangers alike.
In some ways, though, Christmas in Afghanistan has seemed a little counterintuitive. We are in a combat zone, after all. While we may not live with an imminent threat of violence in our camp, the reality of war is all around us. We watch as air support races through the skies, responding to those injured on the battlefield, and we know that many US service members and allied personnel are always in danger. Even we hear the warning sirens sound. It doesn’t help morale to have the threat of a rocket attack constantly interrupting business and, in many cases, sleep.
We also read the news. Reports of a suicide bomber at a funeral not too far away from us in the Kabul area and multiple churches being targets of terrorism on Christmas Eve throughout the region have demanded that we pause both our work and our celebrating to recognize that all is not calm nor bright, not here, not really anywhere.
But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe those of us who are deployed this Christmas, away from our families and loved ones and instead clinging to strangers we hardly know, have the opportunity to experience an aspect of Christmas which is very important, yet hardly noticed when we are surrounded by the comforts of home. These days, we have faced the tension of hope and promise in a dark world, the same tension that was present on that holy night when Jesus was born into a lowly stable. For those whose job is guarding detainees or doing analysis of intelligence reports about potential threats, having the audacity to celebrate the coming of Christ this year is a bold proclamation. Despite the darkness which threatens to overcome Good News, we gather to pray and praise God nonetheless. We hold on to words which remind us that this light of God cannot be overcome, even by the darkest night.
At the end of our Christmas Eve service, like many in churches around the world, we lit the Christ candle in our Advent Wreath and then passed its light around to each worshipper. The lights dimmed, and we sang Silent Night, watching as bouncing candle light spread throughout the room. Once the light was fully shared, still singing, we filed out of the church into the Afghan night, bringing the light of Christ into the world. There were no bells, no organ recessional or verses of Joy to the World to usher in Christmas Day. Instead, in our circle of light, juxtaposed starkly with this dark place, we proclaimed the best news of all-- Emanuel. God is with us.