“For the joy set before him he endured the cross . . . (Hebrews 12:2b)

When I was a kid the Christmas season started around October. My younger brother, Eric, and I would break out all the department store catalogs in the house, turn right to the toy sections, and start compiling our Christmas lists. We spent most of our time in the Sears & Roebuck catalog because it was the thickest. By the time we finished our lists they were as thick as the catalogs.

One particular Christmas, we set out hearts on getting “Spyder” bikes. Now, if you were raised in the seventies, you know exactly the kind of bike I’m talking about. For the rest of you, the “Spyder” was simply the most awesome bike a kid could own at the time: three speeds, long “banana” seat, high handlebars, and a chopper front wheel. Chrome everywhere. Gnarly! It defined cool.

Eric and I cut out pictures of the bikes and pasted them on our lists. We pictured the bikes in our minds 24/7. We saw ourselves popping wheelies, jumping canyons, and outracing BMW’s. The bikes were all we could talk about in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Anticipation was bubbling up inside us like a geyser. By Christmas Eve it was volcanic.

Usually, Mom and Dad made us go to bed by 8:00. But this particular Christmas Eve they let us stay up to nearly 10:00. They were thinking it would wear us out enough to go right to sleep and stay that way until morning.

Morning is defined as anything after midnight. I felt I had slept for forty-five hours. Surely, the presents were under the tree by now. Were our Spyders among them? I had to know.

I knew Eric would want to know, too. At least, I knew I could convince him he wanted to know, too. So, not wanting to disturb my slumbering parents, I put my lips as close to my little brother’s ear as possible and whispered, “Eric.”

“GO BACK TO BED!” Mom yelled from her bedroom. What gene gives moms such acute hearing when it comes to their children? Here’s a woman who could sleep dreamily through the tornado that was my dad’s snoring without so much as a twitch. But she heard me whisper, “Eric,” so low that elephants couldn’t have heard it. And, that from all the way down a hallway a bazillion and a half yards long.

Eric woke up. Not from my whisper but from Mom’s screaming. “You’re awake!” he blurted out incredulously, thinking I had been caught sneaking into the living room.

“I said, GO BACK TO BED!” The shrillness of Mom’s shrieks was always in direct proportion to the level of her aggravation. She wasn’t shattering glass yet, but we knew we’d better lay low for a while.

We lay motionless for another forty-five hours.

This time I was going to take a stealthier, more silent approach. I tapped Eric on the shoulder and hand motioned for him to follow me down the hall. “Okay,” he whispered.

“GO BACK TO BED! She was up to E over middle C.

Unsettled but undeterred, we squatted down on the floor, still and silent, keeping our eyes open so they’d adjust to the dim light coming from the nightlight in the hallway. We put our slippers on so they’d muffle the sound of footsteps. We counted to infinity . . . twice.

Wordlessly, we began to creep down the hallway. But, in our excitement, we had forgotten about the creaky old floor furnace. I stepped on it and it went, “CREEEAAAKKK.” We bolted for our beds.

“GOOO BAAAACCCKK TOOO BED-DAH!” She was shrill as a teakettle.

Terror gripped our hearts but bikes beckoned. We knew we would be risking life and limb if we tried again, but some things are worth risking your little brother’s life for. A Spyder bike is one of them. Learning to fly off the roof of a house is the only other thing I can think of, but that’s a story for another day.

After a bit, I motioned for Eric to check to see if the coast was clear. He did, but refused to be first down the hall. Guess the flying lessons did teach him a thing or two.

I slid on my stomach to the floor furnace, Eric followed close behind. Upon reaching said furnace, I climbed a little ways up the walls of the narrow hallway by extending my arms sideways and spreading my legs so that a hand and foot were on opposite walls. Eric followed suit. We were doing great. We were halfway up the wall, halfway down the hall, and midway over the floor furnace.

Just then, we heard the front door open and close. We froze. There were footsteps coming from the living room, then the den. Through the darkness we saw a bearded figure step into the hall.

“Santa Claus!” I screamed.

Eric screamed.

Santa Claus screamed.

Mom screamed. Glass shattered four blocks away.

Santa Claus happened to be my older brother, Bob, who had been away at college. He thought he’d surprise us by being home for Christmas morning. Mission accomplished.

In our panic, Eric and I simultaneously lost our straddle hold on the walls and fell bottom first onto the floor furnace. Our butts looked like Belgian waffles.

Mom would’ve flattened them into pancakes had it not been for Bob. He was between her and us, bent over and laughing hysterically. Eric and I scrambled to our beds and prayed for God to take us on to heaven before Mom got to us. Either way, we were sure we were going to die before ever seeing our new bikes.

After what seemed to be an eternity, we heard footsteps coming down the hallway. We heard the floor furnace creak. We heard someone come into our room. We trembled beneath the covers. I buffered my bottom with pillows. Then, we heard Dad’s voice, “C’mon, boy buggins. Let’s go open presents.”

We were in the living room within seconds. Mom and Bob were sitting on the couch sipping coffee. And, gleaming from behind the Christmas tree was the unmistakable glint of chrome. By first light we were on the street popping wheelies, looking for canyons to jump, and warming up to take on BMW’s. Gnarly! We defined cool.

One of the reasons that Christmas is so exciting for kids is the anticipation of the joy they’ll have when they receive what they’ve had their hearts set on getting. This same type of anticipation is the whole reason we can celebrate Christmas in the first place. It was for the “joy set before Him” that the Son of God became the Son of Man in order to take away our sins through His death on a cross. The joy Jesus anticipates, what He has His heart set on receiving, is us. We are God’s Christmas present. To Jesus, we’re better than Spyder bikes. Gnarly!

© Paul R Downing

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