Marlena heard shouts from behind her. She looked in her rearview mirror to asses the situation. Her oldest, David, was reaching across the back seat to his sister Lizzie, threatening to wipe his snot in her hair. David was grinning devilishly while Lizzie screamed in terror. Marlena’s husband Jim was playing with the radio. It was Christmas Eve, and the family was on their was across provinces to Marlena’s parents for Christmas. Marlena had been prepping for weeks, wanting to bring the perfect Christmas to her parents, who could no longer come to them.
“Jim, can you get them to stop it?” snapped Marlena.
“Stop fighting you guys” said a disinterested Jim without looking up.
“Whatever” sighed Marlena to Jim.
“David, Lizzie if you don’t stop fighting right now, there will be no presents for Christmas”.
Marlena hated making that threat, but lately it seemed to be the only thing that got her kids to stop.
“But mom!!!! David…”
“Enough!” shouted Marlena. “If I hear another word, I will turn this car around and we will go back home with NO CHRISTMAS!”.
The kids were instantly silent.
Jim muttered under his breath, “Sounds good to me”.
All this work for the perfect Christmas, had made the family irritable, Marlena most of all. She wanted so much to have a good time with family, but December had been full of fights and stress. As the family continued to drive in silence, the storm came upon Marlena’s family very suddenly. The dull morning sky had all of a sudden turned white with falling snow. Marlena’s anxiety shifted from being about her fighting children, to simply making it to the next town.
At noon, they pulled in at a roadside hotel, there were already many cars there and the minivan barely made it through the snow to one of few remaining parking spots. They trudged into the lobby and waited to get a room. Jim did the booking while Marlena phoned her parents.
“We won’t make it for Christmas” Marlena nearly sobbed into the phone.
But her parents didn’t seem too upset. They had been invited to the neighbours and they wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Eve. Marlena was devastated… she had worked so hard and now none of that work mattered, Christmas was ruined for everyone.
Jim had managed to book the final room in the hotel… actually it was the executive suite, but he had gotten it for the same price as the other rooms. The hotel clerk was feeling in the Christmas spirit.
When they got to their room, the kids squealed with delight as they leapt onto the beds and started jumping. Jim and Marlena dropped their bags and went to unpack the rest of the van. As they made their way through the hotel lobby, their could hear the clerk telling someone that there were no more rooms. It was a young couple and they looked defeated… “Maybe you can make it to the next town” the clerk offered, trying to be helpful. Marlena knew they wouldn’t make it out of the parking lot. She approached the couple and offered to share their room. There were two beds and a pullout couch in the executive suite, it would be crowded but they could all fit. Jim was looking skeptical, but eventually he shrugged and went back out to the minivan. Marlena showed the couple to the room, and offered them a bed. They introduced themselves as Jesse and Miriam, They were so grateful and polite, while Marlena was embarrassed by her kids who hadn’t stopped jumping on the bed. The couple offered to pay for half the room, but Marlena refused their money.
“The hotel gave us the room for the price of a regular one”, she said. “Let this be our present to you”.
As Marlena, helped them with their things, Miriam took off her heavy parka to reveal that she was pregnant. Very pregnant.
“How far along are you?” Marlena asked.
“I am due next week,” Miriam answered.
The two families spent the afternoon settling into their room.
As the group scrounged for supper at the vending machines, since the hotel kitchen was closed, they sat in the lobby and chatted about their lives, while the kids bounced off the walls. Jesse was a contractor building houses, they had been living away from home, but they were on their way back to have the baby.
The snow had not let up, and the cars in the lot were covered in snow. Afternoon turned into Christmas Evening. Marlena was staring out the window thinking about the Christmas they should be having, when Miriam grabbed her large belly. Jesse looked over and said, “Must be those false labour contractions, no need to worry”.
But the contractions were real.
A few hours later, Miriam was in bed and in full labour, with Jesse at her side. Jim was on the phone with Emergency services who said they couldn’t get an ambulance out in the storm. Marlena was helping the couple as best she could. Eventually it became clear that the ambulance was not coming, and Miriam was going to have a baby in this hotel. They readied themselves as much as they could, then it was time.
“The Baby is going to come now”. Marlena said “One more push.”
Miriam gritted her teeth and Marlena got into position. With the last push, into Malena’s hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Marlena gave the baby to Miriam, who was exhausted but so happy. Jesse looked stunned. Marlena brought some water and towels to clean and then swaddle the newborn.
“Christopher” Miriam said. “His name is Christopher”. Soon mother and baby were sleeping quietly in the bed.
Jim and Jesse waited in the lobby late into the night, David and Lizzie slept on the couches. Jesse couldn’t believe he was now a father. It was Jim who spied the headlights appearing in the white out. Three big 4x4s rolled up to the front door, trucks with skulls, and flames and hunting gear. Several men poured out of the trucks, they were loud and boisterous. They looked like bikers or hunters, wearing balaclavas and carrying tools. They came to streaming into lobby, they looked like a gang out for mischief.
Jesse moved to the door, Jim could see his body tense. Jim followed, worried there would be a brawl. But the group of men quieted down. One stepped froward,
“I am an EMT the volunteer fire department, we are here for the pregnant woman. My name is John Shepherd.”
Miriam was waiting at the door of her room with the baby, she was grateful for the EMTs and firefighters to check her and the baby over. When John Shepherd and his team did their work and left, Jesse came to Jim and Marlena,
“You have been like guardian angels to us. Thank you, you saved us”. He went to sit with Miriam, the two gazed at their Christmas baby.
Jim and Marlena stood nearby watching the young couple. Jim looked at his wife,
“A full motor inn, a baby born on Christmas, an EMT named Shepherd… this has been and incredible night. This is a special baby.”
Marlena looked at her husband, and she couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph. And angel who announced a pregnancy to an unmarried virgin and her fiancee. The promise of a baby who would change the world. A baby just like this one, who could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless his mother kept him warm with her body heat, who could not be fed unless it was his parents who gave him food, who could not be alive unless this unlikely couple worked to keep him so. The story of angels and shepherds had never seemed so real as it did tonight.
“Look at that beautiful child” Marlena whispered as she wrapped her arms around Jim.
And together as they looked at this little child, so new to world, wiggling and gurgling like newborns do, they saw skin and hair, ears, eyes and a nose. And yet as they looked longer, they saw something more, something so much more. As they looked into this child’s eyes they could see themselves, they could see everyone that they loved, they could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, they could see the divine, they could see a great passion for all creation, they could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at Jesse and Miriam, they could see Mary and Joseph, looking at Christopher, they could see Jesus. They saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A world with God in it.
As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the two families watched this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced across the sky, they could almost hear voices singing in the sky,
“”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!”
For Part 2, see here: A Story for Christmas – Part 2