An empty place at the Christmas dinner table
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There will be peace on earth
--- Stevie Wonder, “Someday at Christmas”
For most of us, Advent began the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We took down the autumn decorations and put up the Christmas lights. We placed the Advent wreath on the table and decorated the house. We made Christmas wish lists and plans for Christmas dinner.
And we waited. We waited in hope for the joy of Christmas Day.
This year, Advent has been turned upside down around our house for many reasons, but the biggest is the absence of Matthew. Our oldest son has taken a job in entertainment aboard a major cruise ship. He left in September, and since his term is for six months, he will not be coming home for Christmas for the first time in his 25 years. I’m aching for his presence now as we enjoy the festivities of this wonderful time of the year. For us, this year is a time of transition, of new traditions, and of prayer for the member of our family who isn’t physically present with us.
Thinking about how much I miss Matthew makes me ponder the many families with loved ones who won’t make it home for Christmas --- our military families, who serve our country so bravely, and those who have lost loved ones who have gone to heaven. With as much joy as there is this time of year, there are many who, even though they celebrate, can’t help feeling empty inside.
I think of my friend, Karen. Shortly before her husband, Andrew left for Afghanistan last spring, Karen learned she was expecting their fifth baby. Her Advent began that day.
For eight long months, she has waited and watched and wondered if Andrew would be home in time to welcome his new son into the world. For Karen, Advent has been busy with watching her four children decorate the house for Christmas. It has meant sitting, waiting, hoping and willing that each contraction she feels will not bring her baby too soon.
For the past eight months, while Andrew has been in Afghanistan she has supervised teenaged driving; taken little girls to ballet; and marveled as a five-year-old started kindergarten. While her baby grew beneath her heart, she relied on e-mail and all-too-brief telephone calls to hold her husband close to her children and to herself.
And now, as so many soldiers are returning home from Iraq, she whispers a prayer for a Christmas miracle to bring her husband home, too. But as the baby's birthday draws ever closer, it is apparent that Andrew won't be home in time to be the support Karen so dearly desires. She will labor and deliver without the comfort of her husband. And when Christmas Day is finally here, Karen and her children will be all too aware of the empty place at the dinner table.
I think also of my friends, Kristy and her husband Pat. Their daughter, Ashley, is married to Senior Airman Christopher Perry, who is stationed in Mildenhall, England. Last summer, Ashley and Chris' son Carter was born. For Kristy and Pat, Advent has been spent looking at pictures of their first grandchild and relying on Skype to catch glimpses of each precious moment.
At six months of age, Carter is all eyes and smiles and wonder at the lights and sounds of Christmas. But as the squadron's crew chief, Christopher cannot make it back to the States for Christmas. So Kristy and Pat will not only be missing their daughter and son-in-law at Christmas dinner, they will also be missing their first grandchild's very first Christmas.
So often we talk about the sacrifices a soldier makes, and we forget that entire families are sacrificing daily as well. There are wives and children and parents who are fighting this war, right here at home.
And I think of Martha and Francisco, whose son, Lance Corporal Javier Olvera, will never make it home for Christmas again. Their Advent began in November of 2007, when Javier was deployed. They waited, prayed, and hoped for his safe return home, but on August 8, 2009, their son was killed while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan. At only 20 years of age, Javier's heroic death has forever brought an empty place to the Olvera family table.
So often we talk about the sacrifices a soldier makes, and we forget that entire families are sacrificing daily as well. There are wives and children and parents who are fighting this war, right here at home. Mothers and fathers and spouses and children are painfully aware of an empty place at the Christmas dinner table.
So this Christmas time, when you are nestled all snug in your beds, please say a prayer for Karen and Andrew, for Kristy and Pat, for Martha and Francisco, and for all the men and women and children who are sacrificing daily so that we can sleep soundly at night. If, when you sit to say grace at Christmas Dinner, you remember the empty places at the tables, please ask the Baby in the manger to bring comfort and joy to the heroes who long to sit with their loved ones and for the brave souls who await their safe return.
Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shining moment, one prayer away
From our world today
Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime.
Therese Corsaro attends St. Mary Church, Palmdale, and teaches at St. Mary School.