Stranded in the Cold Northwoods

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Christmas Eve was on Sunday that year. Being a pastor’s family that meant we would not be leaving for my parents’ in the Northwoods until after the Sunday night Christmas Eve service.

Sure — we wouldn’t arrive until two or three in the morning, but everyone was excited to get going (even our dog, Abbie) and no one wanted to wait another day.

We were packed and ready to go … and we had a supply of Christmas CDs to entertain us on the way.. For five hours, we joked and sang along to the music and had a merry, merry, merry Christmas Eve.

The further north we got, the colder the weather and just looking out at the dark, empty highway lined with snowdrifts, made me shiver.

Suddenly our car shimmied and shook. “What’s that noise?” Ken’s voice was concerned. “That doesn’t sound good.” He saw a small exit road without much signage and pulled off, just in time for our van to sizzle and creak to a stop. Ken attempted to get it going again, but that wasn’t happening.

Within minutes, the outside cold had crawled into the van. At least we had suitcases full of clothes, so we quickly put on several layers of hoodies and long-sleeved shirts and several pairs of socks. That helped some but not much.

Every direction was endless darkness. No lights. No sound. No movement.

Ken was attempting to find a solution so someone wouldn’t find us frozen into a block of ice in the morning. (Though we figured my dad would eventually call the police – he was known for doing that if a family member was more than a 1/2 hour late. This was before cellphones.)

“I’m walking over to that hill,” Ken said, pointing to a bluff.  “I’ll see if I can spot signs of life.” He got out of the car, braved the cold, ducked under a fence and made it to the top of the small mound. He motioned to me that he still didn’t see anything.

But fortunately, a police passing on the highway saw him and quickly pulled off the main road and stopped behind us, wanting to know what we were doing.

Ken explained.

“Hmmm …,” he said. “there is one mechanic around here that is usually willing to come out anytime for a price. I’ll give him a call.”

Twenty minutes later the sleepy mechanic found us, quickly diagnosed the problem, fixed it, took our money … and we were on our way. (And yes, my dad was ready to call the police.)

Christmas came and went and a week later we  headed home. As we neared the spot where we were stranded, we slowed and looked around …

… and what to our wondering eyes did appear … a gas station, an open-all-day-and-all-night restaurant and two motels RIGHT across the highway from where we were stranded. The rolling landscape had hidden the lights.

Ok. We laughed. We were so close to the lights and didn’t know it. Instead we sat in darkness, half panicking because we were alone in the silent, frozen night … Fortunately, the policeman was able to find us help.

Actually the whole experience makes me think of so many people at Christmas … or any time. They attempt celebration in the darkness without knowing that the light is within reach. They stumble around, many dreading family get-togethers, the greediness of fellow shoppers, or the massive amounts of money they spend. They are looking for the light, but are “frozen” in despair, not seeing the light of the Savior … even though it’s right there.

I recently read a long list of celebrity quotes on the meaning of Christmas and not one mentioned the Lord. The closest anyone came was an actress who said she doesn’t go to church except at Christmas and then only to hear the choirs. Now I know that the way we celebrate Christmas neither makes or breaks us as Christians. I know Christians who celebrate little and others that go all out. December 25 is simply another day that culturally we’ve made into a holiday.

BUT — when people stumble around in the darkness during Christmas … or during the rest of the year, not understanding the light is so close … then there is a BIG problem.

The policeman rescued us. He found us help. He found us someone to bring us light … at least the headlights were working again

How much do we care about bringing light to those who are stumbling around the darkness both at Christmas (when people are a bit more receptive) and anytime during the year? Does our light shine or is it hidden by the busyness of life or the “hills” where we, too, walk in the darkness?

Let’s reflect the love of Christ today and everyday.

John 1:5 — The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 11:10 — But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
John 12:46 — I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
Philippians 2:15 — that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
I Thessalonians 5:5 — For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

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