December 23 – The Year of the Christmas Comet


Christmas, 1973.  The previous spring I had graduated from college and had started my first full-time job. I was working at a school for special needs kids In Santa Cruz, California, 500 miles from my parents’ home in San Diego. I’d keep the job for another 18 months, and so far it has been my only full-time job not on a church payroll. I am thankful for the time working in the real world. Thanksgiving weekend, 1973, I had purchased my first car, a 1966 Mercury Comet, 200 cu in straight six, three on the tree. Underpowered, the Comet got decent mileage, a good thing during those dreary months of the Arab Oil Embargo, double daylight saving time, and a newly imposed 55 MPH speed limit.

Christmas, 1973.  The Comet was good for the 500-mile trip home. I think I filled the tank at Paso Robles. The gas was a ridiculously high 65 cents a gallon, but least there were no lines at the station.

Christmas, 1973. The Paris Peace Accords ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam had been signed earlier in the year, but the plight of the Vietnamese was still tenuous. A weak South Vietnamese government continued to function in Saigon, but the North Vietnamese were on the offensive.  It would be two more years before Saigon was evacuated and South Vietnam ceased to exist.

Christmas, 1973. In October Spiro Agnew had resigned as Vice President and Elliot Richardson had been fired as Attorney General. Though it would be nine months before the President would resign, no one could remember a president so ethically compromised as Richard Nixon.

Christmas, 1973. My life barely having begun to unfold, it seemed an unlucky time to be young.

And then there was that other comet.  Comet Kohoutek.  Kohoutek is now listed on the Comets that Fizzled website, but at the time astronomers thought it was going to be spectacular and doomsayers thought it was a portent of bad things to come.  Kohoutek was a dud as far as comets and portents go.

Author Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) wrote a poem for Christmas, 1973.  She mentioned Kohoutek in passing. “The Risk of Birth” is about the coming of the Savior into a world of Roman oppression and 1973 uncertainty. I read it every year. It seems to speak to Christmas, 2016, especially well:

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

The Vietnamese now make our shoes and t-shirts. Saigon has become Ho Chi Minh City. We wonder if the siege of Aleppo will ever end. The presidency survived the Nixon years, though we are once again facing a compromised president unlike any other we remember. Kohoutek fizzled, but in a world of drone warfare, portents still fill the sky.

I am no longer young, but my years since Christmas, 1973, have been filled with grace much more than with luck.  Becky. Katharine, Christopher, and Alanna. Ryan, Katie, and Jonathan. Caleb, Lena, Esther, Ada, and Gideon. Amazing friends. The people of First Presbyterian Church, Santa Cruz, California; Calvin Crest Conference Center near Yosemite National Park; Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, Lake Oswego, Oregon; First Presbyterian Church, Menominee, Michigan; Park Presbyterian Church, Beaver, Pennsylvania; and Langhorne Presbyterian Church. E meus boms amigos na Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim America, Belo Horizonte, Brasil. Forty-three years filled with Christ.

How thankful I am love took the risk of birth.

See you Christmas Eve and Morning!