I had always enjoyed the warmth and green of Southern California winters, but Christmas in Helsinki, Finland, was something out of a storybook. There was snow on the ground, pine trees in the park, and stars so brilliant that heaven seemed only a hand’s reach away. I could almost hear the angels singing, “Peace on earth, good will to men!”
My heart was filled with that peace as my missionary companion, Sister Pels, and I settled into our chairs at a fast-food restaurant. Our meeting had concluded at about 7:00 P.M.,and we were eager to relax for a moment over a meal before our bus arrived.
Suddenly the doors flew open and in swept about 20 people wearing costumes. One was dressed like Joseph, another like Mary, and still others like shepherds, the Wise Men, and angels with wings. They had obviously just come from a local Nativity play. Joking and laughing, they purchased their food and sat down to eat.
A few moments later another man walked into the restaurant. He was obviously not part of the first group. His hair was tousled, and he was wearing old, torn clothes. When he collected his meal, he wandered around looking for a seat. Finding one among the Nativity performers, he started to squeeze in between two of the Wise Men. As he did, he accidentally tipped his tray too far, and his soda pop fell onto the floor.
There were chuckles from the group as he backed away and found a table next to ours. He eased into the seat and just sat there, head hung, not looking at his food, not looking at much of anything but the floor. It occurred to me that this meal must have been something special for him, a rarity he could barely afford. The loss of his drink must have broken his heart. It broke my heart to look at him.
“We have to do something,” I said to Sister Pels.
“Well, they do offer free refills for spilled drinks,” Sister Pels remarked. She immediately stood up and walked over to the food counter. As she did, all Bethlehem noticed her missionary name tag. Some of the group rolled their eyes.
A few minutes later, Sister Pels handed the man a new drink as an attendant cleaned up the spill. The man stared at the drink, then turned to stare at Sister Pels and me. His eyes filled with tears. “Thank you,” he said through a throat tight with emotion. “Life’s really hard right now.”
He told us he was 54 years old and had once been a sailor. He was alone now. His father had just died, and the rest of his family was gone. “Who are you?” he asked.
“We’re missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I replied. “We’re in Finland sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and another testament of him called the Book of Mormon. Would you like a copy?”
He shook his head. “Thanks anyway.”
The conversation ended quickly when Sister Pels noticed that our bus was due to arrive. We would have to hurry to catch it. As we were leaving, we passed by the Nativity group. One of the angels glowered at us and said through clenched teeth, “The Bible is the book.” Momentarily startled, Sister Pels and I edged out the door. Behind us came the tattered and lonely stranger.
“Where are the angels going?” he asked. Puzzled, we looked back into the restaurant at the performers. But then we noticed he was looking at us. “Where are the angels going?” he asked again.
We smiled and wished him a merry Christmas, then boarded the bus. As it pulled away from the restaurant, I gazed at the stars. Heaven did indeed seem especially close.