It was nearing midnight Christmas Eve, 1961. Pulling the collar of my terrycloth robe snugly around my neck, I shuffled to the kitchen to make one last cup of tea. Outside, the December wind whistled and whined around the corners of my home, mocking my loneliness.
One more day, I thought, this nonsense will end. No carolers, no meaningless cards from meaningless people. No holiday scenes depicting a gentle god in infant form, a god who’s actually colder than winter winds. The God who took my husband one year ago tonight.
I shambled to the sitting room, prodded the burning logs, then sank into my rocker nearest the fire. Red and orange flames offered dim light to the room, casting dark shadows which lingered then leapt from wall to wall. Whispering crackles and pops, echoing gloom from the depths of its ashes.
A faint knocking swiftly pierced the stillness. Lost memories faded. I peered through the window to see a young man holding a blood stained cloth to his head; his coat was torn and tattered.
I inched the door open to hear his plea, “I’ve wrecked my car, I’m bleeding.” He released the cloth to reveal a gaping wound. “I saw the light from your window, will you help me?”
“Come in.” I opened the door and lead him to my rocker. “Sit here while I get a bandage.”
“Thank you,” he murmured. His voice carried waves of desperation which followed me down the hall. Oddly, I felt no fear at having this strange young man in my home, after all, I thought, there was nothing valuable here.
He was gazing into the fire when I returned. I took the bloody cloth from his head and began cleaning the wound. His eyes shut, yet an occasional lonely tear managed to escape beneath dark lashes. “Does it hurt?” I asked, carefully blotting the gash.
“Feels better now.” He replied. “You’re very kind.” Pale blue eyes smiled faintly.
“Where were you going so late on Christmas Eve?”
“Just driving.” He said. Cautiously, I wrapped the bandage around his head while he told me his story.
“I’d just left the hospital. My daughter’s been very sick. She said she’s ready to meet Jesus, and for me not to worry.” His hands were shaking, his words cloaked in sorrow. “She’s with Jesus tonight, free from pain. I know He’ll take good care of her.”
I closed the bandage.
“I’m sorry,” were the only words I could utter, my own tears now pooling.
“It was just me and her.” He said. “Her mother left us years ago.” He bowed his head and fumbled with the wedding band he still wore.
I sat on the edge of the sofa. We both watched the fire for what seemed like hours. “I envy you.” I told him.
“You still have love in your heart. A quiet warmth, despite what this cold world has dealt you. I wish I could find that again.”
“You can find it, right here - in Christmas.”
“Christmas?” I asked.
“Yes, Christmas tells the wonderful story of forgiveness. Isn’t this why Emmanuel came to us? Bethlehem led to Calvary so we could be forgiven. He loves us that much. Kathleen, will you forgive me?”
“You know my name? Forgive you for what?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Tonight, after I left the hospital, I was driving carelessly. I didn’t see that stop sign on Bakers Ridge. I hit a green sedan. The man driving it died.”
Memories swung wide open– stop sign, Bakers Ridge, green sedan, death. Suddenly I was taken back to that night one year ago. “You can’t be him! The man who hit my husband died also that night!”
A solitary tear fell from pale blue eyes. “Please Kathleen, forgive. Let Christmas live again.”
The young man walked out the door, and left me watching through the window until he disappeared into the snowfall.
Turning, I picked up a Christmas card from the pile I’d tossed on the floor. I traced the scene with my fingertip, over shepherd’s staff, across angelic robes. The verse read:
A tiny town called Bethlehem,
Messiah’s human life began.
Through desert and over stormy seas,
To end on a hill called Calvary.
Many were healed, the dead could live,
All for the forgiveness Christ longs to give.
The fire had died, the room was dark. But I felt a new warmth springing up in my heart. It felt good to let Christmas live again.
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