O Tidings of Comfort and Joy …
It was one of those mercilessly cold nights; the kind where the air is so still, everything is clear and crisp. In the cloudless sky, the moon glowed bright and fuzzy, surrounded by a dark blanket, peppered with visible stars. On either side of the highway, as far as the eye could see were pastures and fields only interrupted occasionally with a distant house, most this night brightly decorated with multiple-colored lights.
Frank sighed as he passed one, set far enough back from the road to be indistinct but bright enough to draw attention. He pushed the gas pedal and raced past, quickly leaving it behind. A road sign to the right told him it would only be a couple of hours until he made it home.
“Hmph.” He grunted. Seeking distraction, he turned the radio on, moving the dial from station to station as bits of holiday carols burst forth. Disgusted, he punched the controls to silence it.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like Christmas but there wouldn’t be much of a celebration this year with Elaine gone. A sad expression settled on his face.
His wife had loved the whole Christmas season like no one else he’d ever met. She insisted on a live tree, keeping the house fragrant from Thanksgiving until New Year’s with the brisk scent of pine. With the seemingly endless baking, the house had been warm and enticing all season long. Her generous nature kept her busy with sharing the treats among her friends and neighbors.
But most of all, she looked forward all year to celebrating Christmas at the local orphanage. Throughout the year, she sewed, knitted, and gathered items to share with them during the holidays. She’d been unable to have any of her own, so she lavished her seemingly inexhaustible affections on the children there and they loved her for it. Frank loved her too. So much that he’d even let her talk him into playing Santa to the children a couple of years and share in the joy she got from giving to them the things she’d collected.
“Why?” Frank growled. She had been so good, so loving, so full of life. Slamming his fist on the steering wheel, he shouted. “It’s not fair!”
A light snow began falling, creating a soft haze outside the window and along the highway. Frank switched the wipers on to clear it. Their soft swishing in steady rhythm in conjunction with his melancholy reverie, began to lull him.
Suddenly, he started. Looking around him anxiously, he straightened and shook his head to clear it. Had he fallen asleep? It was still snowing, a little heavier now. Quickly, he adjusted his steering to keep from crossing into the wrong lane.
Up ahead, a dark spot caught his attention. Could there really be someone walking on the highway in this weather? He strained to make it out, blinking several times in disbelief. It seemed to be.
As he slowed to assure he didn’t hit whatever it was, he saw the figure turn, lift an arm, and raise a thumb. In this weather, he could hardly just drive on. He pulled over and eased to a stop.
“Thank you, sir.” The young man offered as he climbed in. Dressed in jeans over heavy boots, a thick overcoat and woolen cap, he appeared comfortable, as unlikely as that was out in weather like this.
“Mighty cold night to be hitchhiking.”
“I’m warm enough.” He replied with a genuine smile. “But I’m glad you stopped.”
Frank thought it curious but didn’t respond. Uncomfortable with the silence, he announced. “I’m only going to the next town. It’s about an hour and a half but I’ll be happy to take you that far.”
“That’ll be fine, sir.”
“Going home for the holiday? Got family?”
He shook his head but didn’t seem bothered by it.
“Me neither.” Frank said after a moment. “I don’t have any family. Wife died a few months ago.”
“You must miss her.”
Frank nodded. Tears filled his eyes. “I just don’t understand why God took her from me! She was everything to me. And she gave her life to Him a few weeks before she died. She read the bible, she prayed and went to church. It’s just not fair! Why did God take her from me?”
Silence filled the truck cab.
Then the passenger turned to Frank. “Do you believe the bible is God’s Word?”
He pondered. “Well… uh… I guess so.”
“Do you think God’s a liar?”
“In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 5, verses 21-24, God tells of a man named Enoch who walked with Him. It says God took him. He didn’t kill him, he was not, it says, for God took him — alive.
“In 2 Kings, Chapter 2, it tells how God took Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire in a whirlwind. Elisha saw him go — alive.
“At the end of his ministry, after the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples saw Him taken up to Heaven — alive.
“The Lord Jesus Himself said that He came that you might have life and have it more abundantly. The thief — the devil — is the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Sir, God did not take your wife from you.”
“Why didn’t God stop it then? She prayed.”
“He has set His laws in motion, and He lives by them. He has to allow what people allow because the authority is theirs and life and death are in the power of the tongue.”
Frank was silent. He’d never heard God spoken of in such a way before. Although Elaine had spoken of a peace and joy she’d never had before, he’d never understood. To him, God was someone who was always about half mad and looking for a reason to punish people. He’d figured maybe God was punishing him for not believing like she did. Somehow, though, he found himself trusting this young man and pondering what he’d said. It prompted the question. “Where is Elaine now?”
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. When a believer leaves the earth, he or she goes to Heaven to be with Jesus.”
“Doesn’t everybody? I mean, unless they’re really bad?”
“No. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Not everyone believes in Him enough to trust Him as savior and make Him Lord.”
Could it be possible? Frank wondered. Could a person really know for sure they would go to heaven when they died? If Elaine was in heaven, and somehow, he was sure that she was, he wanted to go there too. He needed to know.
“So how does somebody do that?” He asked. “How does somebody know for sure they’ll go to heaven?”
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“Well,” the young man smiled. “That’s the first step.”
Frank opened his mouth to ask another question but didn’t get the chance.
“You can pull up here, sir. This is my stop.”
“Oh, ok.” He brought the semi to a stop.
His passenger opened the door and climbed out. About to close the door he smiled. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Sure thing, kid.” Then as the door was closing, he shouted. “Hey, have a Merry Christmas!”
Taking a moment to gather his thoughts before he went on, he noticed something in the passenger’s seat. Leaning over, he saw it was a book. He picked it up and got out on his side. “Oh, hey kid, you forgot something!”
He looked up and down the highway but didn’t see him. Walking around the truck, and then peering across the open field, he was nowhere to be found. “Strange.” He observed as he climbed back into the truck.
Holding the book under the light, he noticed it was a leather-bound bible. A book so obviously expensive probably had a name or something in it to identify its owner. He flipped through it but didn’t find anything except a page with bright yellow highlighting on it. It was the words the young man had spoken to him. “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Frank closed the book. He set in on the seat and waited but his passenger didn’t come back.
“Well,” he spoke aloud. “I believe that Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead. If you can do anything with my life, God, you can have it.”
He shifted the truck into gear and started down the highway. As he went, he had an idea. It had been his plan to drop the gifts Elaine had collected by the orphanage anonymously, but what better way to honor her memory than to offer to play Santa and bring them himself? He sensed a peace and calm in his heart, and he knew she’d be pleased.
Confident now that she wasn’t lost to him but waiting for him, he smiled. With a light heart, he turned on the radio and began to sing along with the festive Christmas music. His wife had found such joy in this season, and he determined he would have that joy in her memory. It would be a Merry Christmas after all.