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A Christmas Letter
O. P. Kretzmann

Last night long after midnight I sat in the one corner of the world where you can see the moon rise over Asia and Europe at the same time… It came quickly, as it always has—a thin sickle of silver over the Bosporus… I was sitting on the top deck of a small ship whose business it is to carry tired twentieth century folk along the footsteps of Alexander, Ulysses, and St. Paul… For a week now we had been doing this and I had become increasingly melancholy over the restlessness of those three wanderers.… If they had stayed at home tending to their chores, I could be spending these dark autumn days listening to the Olympic games rather than wending over the trackless sea examining their roads, their great public buildings, and their lingering churches.

By and large, it is a sad task.… So much in the calling past—so little in the forgetful present… This morning I visited a Turkish bazaar… Except for the electric lights and an occasional reflection of a hesitant automation (human bearers of goods were replaced by little wagons), I could have expected to meet St. Paul around the next corner, looking for a place to display his tents… Time had done much to us these two thousand years, but the business of buying and selling was still, unchanged and unchanging, at the heart of the human enterprise…

I shifted my chair to face Asia… Across the five hundred yards of water there were lights, many more than there were two thousand years ago… Constantinople hac1 broken its walls long ago and had become Istanbul, city of 532 mosques and sixty Christian churches… For five hundred years the waves which began at Bethlehem and Calvary had eddied visibly here… For my faith and hope it had become a place of mooring, of retreat and defeat…

And still I could not forget that at this moment, in this particular place, I was nearer to the village at which you and I will look again, our eyes

clouded with tears… It will be Christmas again, Bethlehem again, as sure again as St. Paul knew it to be when he wandered driven over the sea behind me… Only a few hundred miles beyond the dark rim of hills across the water there were still the village, the dust and dirt of the place where, God decided, He would come into our lives, our bazaars, our great cities, our coming and going over far waters… Here He had come, not far away all these years —and here He had stayed… but it is the benediction of His staying which we have so largely and sadly lost…

A sudden mist fell over the water and beneath a star over Asia I seemed to see the Wise Men on their continuing quest… Two thousand years ago they probably came from the vast lands to my left, perhaps Persia, to bend a willing knee before the King whose conquering way has not yet ended but goes on ad diem Dei et irae, world without end… For a moment, too, I thought what a cosmic irony it would be if the antiquarians of your generation should discover that the Wise Men had come from some forgotten corner of the modern Soviet Union… Certainly you would know that they had been farther away from home than they knew and that the wandering star had been a very necessary travel agency…

And so I turned back to my familiar Western world and to the task and destiny of your generation… You will approach the third millennium of Christian history^ carrying the Child from Bethlehem… Your journey will be as long and far as the journey of the Wise Men and its end will be determined by the singleness of heart with which you carry the Child…

Your remaining years—and the years after that—will see a new and unprecedented emphasis on the centrality of the Child… Your life will have to be Christological… You will be aware of the coming of the Holy Thing into history as never before… You will remember, heart, and soul, the great discontinuity marked by Bethlehem… the towering exception of the Manger… Once more, I hope, you and some of your companions on the Way will feel and know the power which drove St. Paul over the world— the stunning awareness of the Sein-Dasein-Mitsein of the living God in Jesus Christ…

Has your generation come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?… You have come to a time of despair and hope, but ever and always, I hope, a time for a new upwardness… for I have seen it again, here nearer the place where the unexpected and the undeserved really happened… and the Wise Men saw it… adored it… and went home by another Way no longer needing a star but only the eternal leading of the Child…

My generation is close to the end of its parenthetical ministry… Look closely at Christmas 1968 and you may begin a new sentence.

 – Dad

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