In a recent installment of You and God I shared with you a favorite classic Christmas story; in this post I want to tell you of a very special Christmas for the Slutz family, one that occurred 50 years ago this coming Christmas Eve.
We were living in Dallas, Texas, where I was pursuing studies at Dallas Seminary. Our girls, Sandra and Marti, were four and two years of age and our son, Teddy, was about six months old. We were driving home to spend Christmas with Ellen’s family who lived where she had grown up, in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It was a trip of just a bit over 1,000 miles and sixteen hours, and we packed our suitcases and a few gifts that we were able to take to exchange into the front (under the hood) of our tiny ’64 Volkswagen bug with the children in the back seat (seat belts were unheard of then) and headed out sometime after I got home from work the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We were young (still in our 20’s) and never gave a second thought as to how tough a trip like that might be through several states (Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and then into northwestern North Carolina) with three children, none of them yet five years of age, stuffed into the back seat of a car that by today’s standards looked like a toy!
But we were excited to go, for the first time since we’d been married, to the beautiful Blue Ridge North Carolina mountains where Ellen had grown up and where, since we had exchanged our wedding vows in August of 1965 in the little white-steepled church her daddy pastored, in the community of Cricket. We had not been there since that wondrous wedding night, and the thought of seeing Mom, Dad, a younger brother (one was in Viet Nam) and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, was exciting, so much so that any thought of how far that trip was never crossed our minds. With whatever map we could get our hands on, we started out to spend Christmas Eve under the stars headed for our destination far to the east.
Thankfully, the trip was pretty uneventful. The car ran like a true “bug,” and the mountains were no challenge for our little foreign made built for the autobahn vehicle. We had packed some food to eat as stopping for fast foods, especially on a long trip through mostly small towns, was unheard of. The children, with the coming of darkness, fell asleep, and the excitement of the journey was enough to keep Ellen and myself wide-awake having spent the day before in preparation for the journey.
It was a quiet Christmas Eve. Most people were already at their Christmas gatherings, and the farther along we got, the less traffic we were required to deal with. All went really well. We had an AM only radio in our little beetle, but going through any country miles, much less mountain miles, one did not expect to find any “reception” on the radio. We were totally surprised though when scrolling through the dial, somewhere in Tennessee in the wee hours of the morning, we heard with crystal clarity the beautiful strains of Handel’s’ Messiah coming out of that little dashboard box and we immediately fixed the dial onto that station and for the most part of two hours, until dawn came on Christmas morning, unveiling a beautiful scene of a light skiff of snow covering the mountain sides, we enjoyed that wonderful classic Christmas oratorio. It seemed like it was just for us! The reception, through mountains, amazingly did not waver. The children slept soundly. We listened with silent rapture as our Messiah was exalted through musical offerings of Old Testament prophecies and New Testament Gospels as what seemed like a choir of a thousand angel-like voices came sweetly yet powerfully out of that little radio stirring our hearts, shaking our souls in awe and wonder not only at the grace of God in giving us His only begotten Son but also in His mercies in wafting to us through invisible ether waves that early Christmas morn sacred wonders of His unspeakable gift to the world and to us on what would be a Christmas Eve/Christmas Day gift that would be etched deeply into the recesses of our memories for decades to come.
About breakfast time the music ended, and we were amazed to find a little country café somewhere in eastern Tennessee that was open for breakfast and so we joyfully disembarked from our close car quarters and our little family enjoyed some hot food that would take us on a few more hours to home and to what would seem like “heaven” for a very few days as we humbly, gratefully celebrated Christmas. The exchange of gifts would seem meager in comparison to what we will probably do again this year on Christmas morning, but the giving and receiving of love, the singing of timeless Christmas carols in that same little church where Ellen’s Dad would years later retire after 50 years as pastor would be all the gifts we would want and more than we would dare ask for on a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 50 years ago this Christmas, forever sanctified in our memories as a treasured Christmas, produced by God the Father, starring God the Son and directed by God the Spirit, Christmas 1970.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)