Joe packed the worn backpack full of his life's belongings, rolled up the sleeping bag he got from the Union Gospel Mission and tied it to the bottom. Looking down at his shoes he sighed, holes. He grunted as he wiggled his toes. Such is life, he thought. Suddenly he realized he was being watched. The others looking at him intently while huddled around the small fire next to the overpass they all called home.
“Where ya goin' Joe?” called one. “You got somewhere to be for Christmas?”
They all laughed.
“Actually, yeah, I do,” replied Joe. With that he lugged his backpack up over his shoulders, adjusted the straps just so, and started on his journey. He didn't look but he could feel the raised eyebrows at his back, they would have to just keep on wondering. He smiled.
“Mommy can I put the star on top? Pretty please?” Sally tugged her mothers shirt pleading with the big brown eyes that have gotten her so many treasures before.
Her mother laughed, hanging another ornament. “Of course honey. Get your father though, he'll have to lift you.”
Sally ran off to find her father who was bringing more boxes of Christmas decorations from the garage. “Daddy, I need you.”
“I'm coming honey, I have the star,” her Dad called up the stairs with a chuckle.
Sally stopped by the window at the top of the stairs to wait as patiently as she could for her father. When she looked out the window she saw a man standing in the tree line across the street. “Mommy, there is a man watching us. He looks cold, can he have some hot chocolate?”
Tom and Joyce raced to the window. Joyce looked at her husband, “It's got to be him.”
“Look, we don't even know if that story is true,” Tom said.
Joyce shot him a look louder than any words.
“Okay, I'm going to go talk to him.” Tom pulled his jacket on and walked outside.
Joe startled when he heard the door shut. He grabbed his backpack and started walking away.
“Wait,” Tom called. “I want to introduce myself.” He stuck out his hand, “I'm Tom.”
Joe shook his hand, “Joe,” he said gruffly. “Sorry, I was just enjoying your Christmas lights. They're nice.”
“The lights are my favorite, my wife, she loves Christmas.” Tom felt God pressing his heart. Joyce is going to kill me, he thought. I'll trust you Lord, please speak to Joyce as you are speaking to me, let your words flow through me, I am your vessel. “You look cold, would you like to come in?”
Joe cleared his throat, “Oh no I couldn't.”
“Well at least have some hot chocolate with me. I'll get some chairs, we can look at the lights together,” Tom said.
Joe looked him in the eyes for the first time, he wanted to say no, but it was cold and he hadn't had a warm drink in so long. “That's mighty kind of you sir.” He looked down again.
Joyce brought hot chocolate and Tom grabbed some chairs. They sat watching the lights together making small talk. As the warmth of the drink spread through his body, Joe's heart thawed too and he told his story. How he went to the bar instead of going to dinner with his wife and daughter one night like they begged him to. How they had been killed by a drunk driver that night, his guilt. And finally how he lost everything, including the very house Tom and Joyce now lived in. “That's why I came here. To look at the lights. My wife loved Christmas...”
He hung his head in his gloved hand and wept.
Tom began to tell him of a loving God, the Abba that holds you up when you feel you can't take another breath, the Redeemer who forgives all sins, and the Savior who gives new life. “Its time you forgive yourself, Joe. Jesus wants to take the bad and bring good from it. You just have to let him. Can we pray with you to accept Jesus into your life?”
Joyce grabbed his hands and held them tightly as she waited for his answer. “What better time than on the eve of Christ's birth? Its about new life.”
Joe looked her in the eyes, “That would be mighty nice.”
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