This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
~ 1 John 4:9,10
Christmas – 200 feet deep in the South China Sea
Black steel slid silently through the depths. Somewhere, somewhere else, it was Christmas. But here, in the cold and dark, it was combat. The red control room lighting barely revealed the intensity, but it was real, as real as the rising hackles of a suspicious guard dog.
Somewhere else it was Christmas. Our attack sub was rigged for ultra-quiet; no sound would be allowed to reveal our location. This intercept had been too hard won to betray ourselves with a dropped spoon in the galley, a hatch slammed closed, or…even a Christmas carol.
Moving quietly through the boat, underlining the seriousness of our situation with quiet whispers, it was easy to notice the emptiness of our attempts at holiday cheer. The tinsel in the wardroom, a few battered ornaments in the crew’s mess, and a plastic tree that would have embarrassed Charlie Brown were a painful counterpoint to what wasn’t there. No traditional carols, no holiday music, no warm baking smells, no friends sipping cider, no family. There you had it. Something else sacrificed for the mission. This job was tough enough on a good day, but another Christmas away from family made it pretty easy to feel sorry for yourself.
A brief stop by Radio to check message traffic revealed a single strip of flimsy taped to the door:
FM: COMMANDER, SUBMARINE FORCE, PACIFIC FLEET
On this day forty years ago every submarine in the Pacific Fleet was at sea, their crews fighting for their lives and those of their countrymen. Many of those who sacrificed that Christmas away from their family and loved ones made the supreme sacrifice and never returned from the sea.
As you serve this Christmas with honor, reflect on the sacrifice of those who have gone before you, and take heart that your effort will not be forgotten by those whose peace you defend.
Back in my coffin–like bunk, I flipped on the light and pulled out my Bible. At least reading the Christmas story wouldn’t betray our mission. I read the prophecies in Isaiah and Micah, then moved into the day of His birth in Luke, but as I read, my mind wandered. Something COMSUBPAC had said, something about sacrifice. Through Luke once more, and then it started to sink in.
Sacrifice…to give up one thing for the sake of another.
That the Christmas story was about sacrifice.
That God would give up His Son for the sake of me, if only me. That God, through the sacrificial giving of His only Son, would not dwell on the loss, but see only what would be gained. That Jesus, who would grow up to sacrifice Himself, would not count what was lost, but only souls that would be redeemed.
What a lesson unfolded there, prowling silently in an alien world.
A lesson about sacrifice, and the joy that comes from measuring sacrifice not in terms of loss, but in terms of gain.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
~ Galatians 2:20