Because my father was in the Air Force and often away, sometimes our family had to reschedule Christmas. The most memorable rescheduling happened when I was a teenager. Although Dad was home, that year Christmas came a day early.
Dad was a B47 bomber pilot in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the Cold War. Known for its readiness, SAC kept flight crews on constant alert status living in barracks on the flight line. Within minutes of the wail of a siren, fully-crewed bombers were in the air. The pilots headed toward enemy air space—not knowing if it was practice or real war until they were recalled to base.
Alert duty wasn’t popular. The men were “locked away” from their families for a week. They slept in their flight suits to be ready at any moment. The cloistered week, boring but necessary, was especially dreaded on holidays.
Dad had never drawn alert duty during Christmas week. But that year he became concerned about a young pilot who would have to spend Christmas away from his small children. My father decided to take his place. We celebrated a day early, Dad moved into the alert barracks, and the young pilot went home. On Christmas Day we had dinner with Dad and took a tour of the barracks.
Even now when I recall past Christmases and Dad, I don’t think of trees and gifts, although we always had those things. Instead I see a small room and a cot with his boots beside it—the room I saw in an alert barracks on Christmas Day many years ago. The year my father gave himself as a Christmas gift.
Christmas is not dependent upon a certain date, where we are, or what we receive. It comes as we give of ourselves and worship the One who became the only acceptable substitute for a people locked in sin. The One who loved us so much that He moved out of heaven and into a manger on that first Christmas. The time the Giver became the Gift.