Dong Yun Yoon of University City, California, will never forget this Christmas. Two weeks ago, his family was killed when a Marine F-18 Hornet fighter jet lost power and crashed into his home.
In an instant, this season of joy become a time of unimaginable sorrow for Yoon. However, his response to the tragedy can only be described as a great gift to all of us.
The plane’s engines failed during a training flight off the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. The pilot, Lt. Dan Neubauer, tried to reach Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego but wound up safely ejecting from the plane about two miles from the station.
The plane crashed into the Yoon’s just-moved-into home. Young Mi Yoon, their daughters Rachel and Grace, and her mother were killed.
While the tragedy was front-page news, what happened next captured the imagination of the country. The next day, an understandably devastated Yoon told reporters that he didn’t have any “hard feelings” toward the pilot and that he knew that the pilot “did everything he could.”
Not only that, Yoon said, “I pray for him not to suffer for this action,” and called him “one of our treasures for the country.”
Having embodied grace and forgiveness, Yoon then told reporters what made it possible: “I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God,” and he prayed with other family members and friends.
Yoon’s words and actions reminded Adrian Hong, a human rights advocate, of the circumstances surrounding the writing of the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul”-in both instances, tragedy and sorrow were turned into a great witness to the power of Christian hope.
There’s another hymn this episode brings to mind-“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley. In the last stanza we sing that Jesus was “born that man no more may die” and “born to raise the sons of earth.”
While we may not associate Christmas and the Incarnation with our Lord’s victory over death, the Church fathers did.
In “On the Incarnation of the Word,” Athanasius wrote that it was because all of us were “under penalty of the corruption of death” that the Word took “to Himself a body capable of death.” Since the Word “by His one body has come to dwell among” us, “the corruption of death which before was prevailing against [Man] is done away.”
As a result of what Athanasius called “His gracious coming among us,” “the way up into the heavens” is “made ready” for those, like the Yoons, who put their faith in him.
This “new beginning of life for us” and the graciousness that makes it possible is at the heart of the Christian hope. It consoles us and enables us to be gracious even when our world is falling apart.
It is this hope, born on the first Christmas, that Peter tells us we must always be ready to explain.
Dong Yun Yoon certainly was. For that he has my gratitude and prayers.