Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rethinking Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!  "Peace on earth, and good will to men".  I just finished a four day trip this Christmas Eve in DC and am going home tomorrow.  We were about to leave Charlotte this evening, with the door closed and pushback clearance received, when the tug driver motioned me to look at the CSA (customer service agent-gate agent) who was waving at us and making the motion 'can you take one more passenger'?  A late passenger was frantic and wiping eyes, desperately wanting to get on this last flight of the night to Washington National airport before Christmas.  Actually we had five minutes before our scheduled departure time, but the flight had been closed.

I'm a softie for late passengers on the last flight of the night, especially on Christmas eve, so I waved my hand all friendly like and she was on the plane soon, after our Flight Attendent opened the door.  It felt good to help a late passenger get to her Christmas desitination, it was a no brainer really.  We pushed back into the night and had a nice flight to DC, where my 1,500 hour, just off of IOE, new reserve pilot First Officer 'Ben' flew a smooth, on glideslope approach into DC's runway 1. 

Everything was looking great until at 100 feet AGL the scene outside showed my eyes that the jet's descent rate virtually stopped, or got reduced to half what it was the moment before, anyway.  The 100' indicated on the radio altitude tape seemed to hover there as the airspeed started dropping a little too fast.  Two seconds had gone by and it was enough for me to say (attempted gently but firmly) "lower the nose a little".  He may have noticed the problem at the same time I said it, but by the time I did, action needed to be taken, to recover or to go around.  He did relax back pressure on the yoke, the nose lowered, the airspeed recovered some and we continued our descent until he reduced thrust to idle at 50 feet AGL and flared the plane a moment later.  We touched down a little firmly, but in my judgement only because Ben didn't flare quite enough for our energy condition, which was a little less than normal at that point.  I told him taxiing in that I thought we had plenty of energy left for him to flare a little more.  He was disappointed, but I told him not to worry about it, he has just over 100 hours in the plane, and at that experience level it's harder to see and sense when the descent has been arrested too high above the runway.

I've seen this situation before, and have no qualms at all about coaching new pilots to a safe landing.  When a pilot takes on landings in a new airplane, everything changes: the view, the speed, the pitch response, and in a jet it can be surprisingly sensitive, especially when the thrust setting is not reduced for landing (in our jet down to about 50 feet AGL).  It takes a few landings rethink how to land a new plane.

Pre-Christmas this season, I've been reading Words of Hope daily devotionals, a great ministry.  One of the writers, Dr. Verlyn Verbrugge, has got me rethinking the Christmas story.  I'd like to share three days of his devotionals about the Christmas story, I hope he doesn't mind.  Verlyn is a retired Pastor who has written a book about the same subject, titled "A Not-So-Silent Night: The Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters".  I haven't yet, but I plan on reading his very interesting, very human take on the traditional Christmas story.   

For background on the most extensive Christmas story (the birth of Jesus Christ), see the gospel of Luke chapters 1-2 at ESV Bible online. 

Verlyn's December 19, 2010 Words of Hope devotional: Mary's shame

More than a million babies are born in the U.S. each year to mothers who are not married. That’s nearly 40 percent of all births. Today there is little social stigma attached to these women.

But that’s not the way it was in Bible times. Ancient culture was an “honor-shame” culture, where certain situations – one of which was getting pregnant out of wedlock – caused a family deep shame. The father of the family was expected to take some drastic action to restore the family honor.

Mary knew that what the angel was announcing to her would cause her deep pain. An unmarried virgin – conceiving a child! How could she explain? Who would believe her story, that her pregnancy involved no sexual immorality?

The nativity passages from Scripture suggest that only two people believed Mary’s pregnancy was divine: Elizabeth and (eventually) Joseph. Since we read nothing in the Bible about Mary’s parents being supportive, is it possible that they insisted that Mary leave their home until she “came clean”? I think that is possible; it would undoubtedly have protected the family’s honor.

In any case, Mary’s submissive statement to Gabriel, “May it be to me as you have said,” must have terrified her. But she vowed to be God’s humble servant, regardless of the cost.

Joseph was engaged to Mary and undoubtedly looked forward to his upcoming wedding. But then a message came to him: “Your fiancee is pregnant.” And Joseph knew he was not the father of Mary’s baby.

Joseph had to take action to retain his own honor; he had to end his relationship with Mary – and quickly. He could either increase Mary’s disgrace by divorcing her publicly or do so quietly; he was planning on the latter.

But then an angel came to him in a dream. He assured Joseph that Mary’s story about her baby being God’s baby was true, and the angel instructed him to take Mary as his wife. Now Joseph would share in Mary’s shame. Regardless of what he might say to anyone, his actions would testify to them: “That baby is mine.”

Oh, the stares that Joseph must have gotten, the whispering behind his back, the snickering of friends. In one short night, Joseph’s entire life was altered. That one dream changed all his other dreams. But he was obedient to God’s will for his life. In spite of the pain that lay ahead, Joseph did what the angel had commanded; he believed Mary, knowing that God had called him to protect her.

Verlyn's December 22, 2010 Words of Hope devotional: Pledged to be married

Joseph is headed to Bethlehem with Mary, but they are not married. And Mary is pregnant! What a story! What a scandal!

In the ancient world, an unmarried man and woman were never to be alone together, not even for a moment. Joseph and Mary spend at least seven days together, traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem – engaged but not married.

And guess what? Mary did not have to go to Bethlehem for the census. Ancient censuses were either for military purposes or for taxation – never for just counting people.  Neither reason applied to Mary. And Mary is nine months pregnant! Imagine her walking (or riding on a donkey) for nearly a hundred miles, up and down dusty roads, about ready to give birth.

Why wasn’t Mary at home, perhaps with her parents? One real possibility is that Mary’s parents had rejected her and her story. Only Joseph believed Mary, and God had charged him with protecting her. God uses this situation of pain and rejection to bring Joseph and Mary together to Bethlehem, in order to fulfill God’s prophecy through Micah (Micah 5:2).  Yes, God can and does use the pain in our lives to fulfill his purposes. Christmas assures us of that.

I hope you have a greater, deeper understanding of Christmas after considering Dr. Verlyn Verbrugge's writings.  The first Christmas was not as joyful and happy as our popular culture makes it seem, even as our 'church culture' makes it seem sometimes. 

I wish you the best for this holiday season, reader.  Merry Christmas and may God Bless you!  In the words of Mac Powell, "Hallelujah, the King is here, given for all men, for today the Holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem!"