Jason slid back into the shadows as he watched Pastor Ben emerge from the sanctuary. He didn’t want to slow down, as the wind seemed to slice his ears like a blade. A brief delay was better than running into Pastor Ben, though. He talked a lot and Jason didn’t trust religious people very much. Better to hang back in the shadows and wait for him to leave.
It may have been too late, though, as he watched Pastor Ben look into the darkness for a few moments. He took a step or two in Jason’s direction and then returned to the sanctuary door. Unlocking the door, he went back inside.
Jason wrapped his tattered scarf around his head again, trying to block the wind from his ears. He wanted to get moving, but the pastor hadn’t closed the door all the way and his keys were still in the lock. Was this a trap? Was he waiting inside until Jason came by? A few lights flickered on inside. The nearby heating unit clicked as it whirred to life.
Jason squatted and moved closer to the building – Hank’s Hardware Store. The hand written sign in the window read “Closed for Christmas”. As if the excessive amounts of greenery and blinking lights were not enough to remind him of the holiday.
His jeans blocked the wind, but they felt stiff and cold against his legs. He rubbed his hands over them in an attempt at warmth and debated whether he should move on. How long had the pastor been back inside?
Fortunately for Jason, the door finally pushed open and Pastor Ben emerged. He closed the door as he had before and removed his keys. He looked in Jason’s direction for a moment and then opened the door again. Turning to leave, he pulled the door closed behind him and walked the other direction to his car.
He didn’t lock the door, Jason thought. Or at least he didn’t lock the dead bolt. Maybe the bottom part was locked? But hadn’t he seen him open it just before closing it again?
Jason watched Pastor Ben drive away and waited another minute. The cold urged him to move on. The alley beside the pharmacy was still a few more blocks away and the temperature seemed to be lowering still. At least the boxes there kept this wind from biting his skin.
As he took a few steps Jason wondered what it would feel like inside the sanctuary. There would certainly be no wind and it would likely still be warm from the day’s heating. He looked around the street. No one was around.
He tried the door and found it open, just as he had suspected. He stepped quickly inside and closed the door behind him. He found himself in a foyer, a faint light illuminating the room through the passage to the auditorium. He listened for any sounds of movement.
A slight chill emanated from the door, but Jason basked in the warmth of the building. He removed his scarf and hat and stepped away from the door toward the auditorium. His fingers tingled as he removed his gloves.
He walked to the auditorium entrance and stopped to take in the view. The room was dark except for the glow of a large Christmas tree to the right of the stage. The red, green and white lights flickered a welcome to the weary stranger. The warmth was everything Jason had expected it to be, but the experience was not. His mind was suddenly filled with memories from his childhood. Memories of gifts around the tree, of Christmas services, carols and parties. Jason had not missed any of that for the past eight years, but somehow now choked back tears.
He walked slowly down the aisle toward the tree. A nativity scene stood serenely beside the tree. The characters and animals were exceptional in their detail and each was arranged carefully around the manger.
Tears began to escape Jason’s eyes. Held hostage for many years now, they started slowly and then began to flow. He thought of Sarah. Of how much she loved Christmas. Of the expensive nativity that she had insisted they buy. “It’s the centerpiece of Christmas!” she had urged. He thought of their last Christmas together and how weak she looked from the treatments.
He wondered about his sons. Wondered if they thought about him. Wondered if they had children. Wondered if they had a nativity scene in their house.
By the time he reached the manger the tears had won full control. He knelt on the floor next to the manger and wept. Really wept.
He had no idea how long he cried, but Jason knew he felt better. The room was warm, yes, but there was also a warmth in his soul that he had not felt for a while. He doubted this mental clarity would last long, but it felt good. He felt – alive.
Looking down, he noticed a collection of items next to the manger. A songbook lay open to “Silent Night”. A Bible was open to the second chapter of Luke. Next to the Bible was a plate with several sandwiches. A few bottles of water and a bag of potato chips completed the ensemble on top of a stack of blankets. A small pillow fell out as he lifted the blankets.
Jason startled as he heard a loud click and the heating unit whirred to life again. He smiled and looked at the tree again. The few tears still clinging to his eyes produced a brilliant display of the lights – sharp points of light darting in every direction. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but this was going to be a good night.