I’ve made more than my share of bad decisions when it comes to travel.

Take the ghost town in Montana requiring ten miles of steep grades, deep ruts, and total isolation. I only made it half the distance before realizing it was time to turn around and keep a bad decision from getting worse. It is true – my wife had significant bearing on the chosen course of action that day. Good call by her.

There was pulling a camper with an undersized vehicle across the Continental Divide in Colorado. I was that guy, jamming the pedal to the floor in vain effort to maintain minimum speed on the steepest climbs of I-70, as the rest of the world cruised by and disparaging looks from passing motorists abounded. Not a good call by me.

Then there was the night I took a presumed shortcut near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, leading to 30 miles of snowy mountain roads, trailing a logging truck with no chance to pass, with no cell coverage, and a glowing low fuel light on the dash. Lesson learned – finding access to an interstate in unfamiliar territory, without benefit of GPS or a physical map, is a harrowing proposition.

And so, the possibility of another bad decision was very much in play several Christmas seasons ago in a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a dreary winter day with cold rain falling hard at lower elevations, forcing all but the hardiest of visitors to forego the park in favor of drier and safer indoor activities. But why pass up a rainy day drive in the mountains, when the fog and mist these mountains are famous for would be on full display?

Up we drove towards Newfound Gap. Down went the temps. In the climb of just a few miles, rain turned into a wintry mix, which in turn gave way to sleet, which in turn caused most of the cars ahead of us to turn back. But the roads were not yet freezing, so on we went.

Somewhere just north of Newfound Gap, almost as if someone flipped a switch, it all turned to snow – a wet, heavy snow with huge flakes sticking to everything they touched. By this time we were far too close to turn back. It was Newfound Gap at 5,046 feet or bust. Was this yet another bad decision?

In less than ten minutes, driving cautiously and with a hopeful trust in AWD, we finally arrived at the Gap. What we saw was nothing short of breathtaking. Like a scene from a Christmas movie, every tree, every branch, every blade of grass, was densely coated with snow. The mountains in the distance, so beautiful on any other day, were completely obscured by walls of snow and fog. It was a winter wonderland, one like we may never see again, one like we had never seen before.

Even today I can recall the unique quietness that only comes when quilts of snow blanket everything in sight. We just stood here and took it all in, marveling at what we would have missed had we not risked going deeper on this road less traveled.

Isn’t it really the same with Christmas?

It is so easy for us to choose busier roads through the holiday season, following bright, shiny, noisy paths towards a Christmas celebration as it was never meant to be. We can make it all about the movies, all about the gadgets, all about the food, or all about fighting the crowds to find gifts for people on our lists who already have it all.  We can even make it all about ourselves.

Or we can risk the dangerous decision to go deeper.

Deeper is where we find the real Christmas, the Christmas where a young virgin lay with her newborn son’s heart beating next to hers, warming His tiny body against the evening chill, looking deeply into the eyes of God. How full her heart must have been on that first Christmas night, how indescribable the wonder of it all.

Deeper is where we see streaming tears falling from the infant eyes of the same One who will one day wipe away the tears of all who know Him, on that coming day when death and mourning and pain will pass away forever.

Deeper is knowing the Child for whom there was no room in the inn, born in Bethlehem at a time no one expected, will one day return as King, coming again at an hour none of us expect.

Deeper is where we find the story of a most holy night, angels igniting a pitch black sky, shepherds falling to their knees in adoration, glories streaming from a wondrous star, magi embarking on a journey that would change their lives forever, and a vicious ruler ordering the slaughter of the innocents in selfish fear of losing his earthly throne.

Deeper is seeing the manger as only the beginning of the end for sin and death, a stepping stone on a perilous journey leading to a cross, an empty tomb, and a promised return.

Deeper is knowing hope was born that first Christmas night for the downcast, for the outsiders, for the losers, for the religious, for all of us tempted to think we are rich but are really poor, for you and for me.

Deeper is celebrating the birth of a Savior.

Deeper is trusting He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Deeper is rejoicing that Messiah is come, and Jesus is His name.

Deeper is where we find the real Christmas.

This Christmas, take the risk. Travel the road to Bethlehem. Dare to go deeper.

May the Savior of Christmas truly reign in your heart.

Merry Christmas.

Mike Fichter
President and CEO

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 

Matthew 24:44 (ESV)