On 3 February, 1966, Captain Gerald Coffee was flying a reconnaissance jet over Vietnam to photograph ammunition sites.
The mission went like clockwork, but on the way back over the coast they were hit by enemy fire. The plane spiralled down and Captain Coffee ejected. He landed in the ocean where he was found by enemy forces, almost killed, then taken prisoner.
He was 31 yrs old, a prisoner of war among people his country had been bombing, and a Christian.
For 7 years he endured horrendous torture, squalid condition and ill-health – until he was released at the end of the Vietnam War.
He wrote afterward about his time as a POW:
Christmas 1968 stands out in my memory.
I had never known what real loneliness could be.
I thought about the simplicity of Christ’s birth. Here there was nothing to distract me from the awesomeness of Christmas. No commercialism. No presents. Little food.
I was beginning to appreciate my own spirituality because I had been stripped of everything by which I had measured my identity…rank, uniform, money, family. I realized that although I was hurting and lonely and scared, this might be the most significant Christmas of my life.
How can a man have the most significant Christmas of his life without family, or friends, or wife, or children, or home, or gifts, or cards, or carols, or celebrations?
What made Captain Gerald Coffee’s Christmas so special?
Gerald Coffee looked to Jesus.
His faith in the living Christ was the powerful Christmas truth that kept him going and made that the most significant Christmas because all there was was Christ.
When life reaches its moment of desperation, our only hope is Christ.
Christianity is not about how to be a good person or how to improve your manners, it’s about Christ.
Christianity is the momentous news that God the Son was born of a virgin to save a lost world, full of lost people held captive by their own sin.
*Thanks to John MacArthur for drawing my attention to the Captain Gerald Coffee story in a sermon preached many years ago.