Jon stood behind the bustling crowd in the chilly night air and watched as the Mayor and other ceremonial officials took their places on the platform. A couple of short, pleasant speeches later they flipped the switch behind them, signaling the opening of the Christmas season by illuminating the entire downtown area with holiday lights.
It was spectacular.
Thousands of glittering, sparkling light points reflected off the already festive decorations adorning the streets and merchant stores, creating a beautiful array of color and anointing the entire area with a golden, heavenly glow. The crowds oohed and aaahed as they slowly began to meander down the lovely walks and into welcoming doorways.
The atmosphere was festive as he walked the holiday sidewalks, but Jon couldn't shake the discouragement that haunted his heart this season. It had been a rough year for him. He was only 22 but he felt aged, burdened and betrayed. A split at his church last summer had cost him some close friends, including the girl he had dated for two years. Losing that relationship hurt him the most, and he felt more alone and empty now than ever. He still had a firm belief in God, but he had begun to lose faith in people. The glory of the glittering lights only seemed to amplify the emptiness he felt within, and he wondered if he would ever again experience love.
Finding a park bench along a busy walkway, Jon sat and watched the others walk by. The people were magnetic. From the waddle of the youngest toddler to the slow shuffle of the gentle elderly, Jon couldn't help notice how they were all drawn and moved by the lights, as if all the color and energy could bring some kind of hope to them. "If only it were true," he thought.
A cluster of families circled a toy store to his right, and excited children chattered and clamored over the window displays. One lone mother caught his attention, standing with her young son as he glowed over a toy behind the glass.
"That's what I want for Christmas, right there!" His excitement was contagious, but instead of joy it brought a burdened frown to his mother's face. Jon looked them over sadly, their secondhand clothing and charity goods betraying their struggles. Their drab appearance was a sharp contrast to the colorful crowds around them, especially to the older couple chatting intensely just behind them. The man had perfectly trimmed gray hair and a well-tailored suit, and the lady looked elegant in her bright red coat with white fur trim.
The young mother was trying to cushion the blow to her son - the reality was the remote controlled car he was eyeing was far beyond her simple means. "Don't get too excited, Jeff, we're going to have to keep Christmas simpler this year." Jon could see the tears threatening to spoil her strong demeanor as she patted his shoulders and began to steer him away.
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, the lady in the red coat began to talk to her. The man had disappeared, and she seemed intent to engage the young mother in conversation, even though it was all small talk. They chatted aimlessly, almost to the point of awkwardness, when the man reappeared from within the store, bearing a brightly wrapped package the same shape and size as the car the boy had spotted. He shocked the young mother by handing the package to her.
"We want you to have this." He smiled to her and nodded toward the boy. "Give it to him on Christmas day."
The lady looked stunned. "But... why?" she asked.
Smiling, the lady in the red coat simply replied, "Merry Christmas."
Tears couldn't help escape the young mother's eyes as the lady gave her a sincere hug and Jon saw her mouth the words in her ear, "Jesus loves you."
Jon sat dumbfounded. It was like all the sermons and Bible lessons he had ever heard suddenly came to life, and something warm and wonderful began to glow in him again.
As the older couple began to move away down the colorful walks, a familiar voice suddenly interrupted Jon's thoughts.
"Jon, are you enjoying the lights?" It was his Pastor, smiling at him from the sidewalk. "Aren't they so bright and beautiful?"
"Yes, they are," Jon reflected, watching the red coat disappear into the crowds down the street. Returning Pastor's smile he continued, "and some shine brighter than others."
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