Author Harriet Richie relates an incident in her family’s life that revealed to her the true nature of Christmas: Following their church’s Christmas Eve service, Harriet’s family decided to stop somewhere for a late-night breakfast. The only place open that late on Christmas Eve was a truck stop off the nearby interstate.
A few big diesels rumbled outside. Inside a few truckers sat at the counter. A jukebox played country music. On the front window were a few multicolored blinking lights. The place smelled like bacon grease and stale cigarette smoke. A one-armed man stood behind the counter. The family squeezed into a booth. A thin waitress named Rita sauntered over. She managed a weary smile and handed them their menus.
Harriet looked around. She felt a little bit like a snob and out of place. Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service. And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night. She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other: “Remember the Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop? That awful music and those tacky lights?”
She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up. A young man with a beard and wearing jeans got out. He walked around and opened the door for a young woman who was holding a baby. They hurried inside and took a booth nearby.
When Rita, the waitress, took their order the baby began to cry and neither of the young parents could quiet him. Rita reached over and held out her arms. “Sit down and drink your coffee, hon, let me see what I can do.”
It was evident that Rita had done this before. She began talking and walking around the place. She showed the baby to one of the truckers who began whistling and making silly faces. The baby stopped crying.
She showed the baby the blinking lights on the window and the lights on the jukebox. She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table. “Just look at this little darlin’.” She said. “Mine are so big and grown.” The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a pot of coffee to Harriet’s table. As he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes. Her husband wanted to know what was wrong.
“Nothing. Just Christmas,” she told him, reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter. “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox,” she told the children.
When they were gone, Harriet said, “He’d come here, wouldn’t he?”
“Who?” her husband asked.
“Jesus,” Harriet said. “If Jesus were born in this town tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be here, wouldn’t it?”
Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, looked at the people. Finally he said, “Either here or a homeless shelter.”
“That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said. “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors. And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel. Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is. But I don’t belong.”
God’s value system, God’s economy, is very different from ours. Bringing the savior into to the world in a poor country town and proclaiming His birth to lowly shepherds may not be what we might do, but it is precisely what God would do.
And the angel said, “I bring good news of great joy to all people.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.