Author: Joan Hochstetler
Title: One Holy Night
Publisher: Sheaf House
Genre: Contemporary fiction/Women’s fiction
An unforgettable story of forgiveness and reconciliation, One Holy Night retells the Christmas story in a strikingly original way—through the discovery of a baby abandoned in the manger of a church’s nativity scene. Destined to become a classic for all seasons, One Holy Night deals compassionately with the gritty issues of life—war and violence, devastating illness, intergenerational conflict, addictions, and broken relationships. This moving, inspirational story will warm readers’ hearts with hope and joy long after they finish reading.
November 19, 1966
Mike McRae dropped his battered duffel bag on the concrete floor and glanced through the bank of windows to where the wide-bodied army transport sat waiting on the snow-dusted tarmac. Waiting to take him and his buddies halfway around the world to war.
The name hung between him and his family as they gathered in the spare, unadorned military terminal, trying to pretend that this trip was nothing out of the ordinary. But it seemed to Mike almost as if he were gone already, that he had moved beyond the point where he could reach out to touch them. Their faces, loved and familiar, blurred before his eyes as though he looked at them through a mist.
His father cleared his throat before shoving a dog-eared, plain, tan paperback book into Mike’s hands. “Thought you might be able to use this sometime,” he said, his voice hoarse. “You and Julie used to like to sing some of these old songs when you were kids. Remember?”
Mike looked down at the book he held. It was his father’s old service hymnbook that he’d gotten as a young Marine at Sunday worship aboard a ship headed out to the South Pacific during World War II. Frank McRae wasn’t much of one to attend church, and the gift surprised Mike. Maybe spiritual things meant more to his father than he had thought.
It evidently surprised his mother too. “Oh, Frank, I didn’t think you paid any attention. Julie taught you those songs when you were just a toddler,” she added, lightly touching Mike’s shoulder. “The two of you sounded like little angels” She stopped, her voice choking.
Mike could feel the heat rising to his face. To cover his embarrassment, he flipped open the worn cover and stared down at the inscription on the title page. No date, just the owner’s name: Frank McRae.
It was Mike’s turn to clear his throat. There was suddenly a lump in it despite his skepticism about anything that had to do with faith or religion.
“Well . . . cool. Thanks.”
Blinking back an unexpected prickle of tears, he glanced over at his mother, Maggie, who was thin and wan from surgery and chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. His sister, Julie, hovered near her, still in her white nurse’s uniform after coming straight to the airport from the hospital where she worked. Behind her stood her husband, Dan, holding their daughter, Amy.
“I know you’ve got a lot to carry already, but”
Mike waved his father’s words away. “It isn’t heavy, Dad, and who knows. You lugged it through all those battlefields, and you made it home. Maybe it’ll bring me good luck too.”
On impulse, he pulled a pen out of the breast pocket of his fatigues, clicked it open and added his name below his father’s, added the date too. Squatting down, he zipped open his bag and squeezed the hymnal in among his clothing.
When he straightened, his mother stepped forward to give him a fierce hug. “When you get there let us know you’re okay and what unit you’re assigned to. Write as often as you can.”
“I will, Mom.” He struggled to keep his voice from choking up. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“You get well, okay?” he whispered in her ear.
“I will. I’m going to beat this cancer, God willing.”
Inwardly Mike sighed, though for her sake he managed not to grimace. He and his mom had always been close, but he got awfully tired of all this God talk. On the other hand, if there really was a benign force somewhere out there in the universe, he supposed prayers couldn’t hurt.
Julie crowded in to put her arms around him as well. “I’m sure going to miss you, little brother.” She was crying openly, not making any attempt to brush away her tears.
“Aw, you’re going to be too busy with this little princess to think about me,” Mike returned awkwardly, reaching over to tickle three-year-old Amy under the chin.
She leaned out from her father’s arms, reaching for him. Dan surrendered the child, and she wound her arms around Mike’s neck, nestled her golden head against his shoulder, giggling, as he tugged on her braid.
Mike was relieved to see that Amy, at least, seemed not to comprehend the dangers he was heading toward or the length of the separation that lay before them. He turned to clasp Dan’s hand in a handshake he hoped would say everything he couldn’t.
Dan pushed his hand away and embraced him without speaking, pounding him on the back at the same time. Only Frank held back, frowning, as he stared through the windows at the plane.
Outside Mike could hear the engines revving up, signaling that it was time to board. The last of his buddies were heading outside. Hastily handing Amy back to Dan, Mike kissed his sister and mother, shook his father’s hand, then zipped up his parka and grabbed his duffel bag.
“Thirteen months,” he said, forcing a grin. “See you all back here next Christmas.”
“Don’t forget to tell Terry hello from all of us. Remind him Angie and the kids want him to stay safe and to hurry home. Give him a kiss from Angie,” Julie added with a wicked grin.
“Yeah, right!” Mike chuckled in spite of himself, then hefted his bag. “It sure will be good to see a friendly face when I get there. With luck, I’ll end up in Terry’s platoon.”
“It’ll be more than luck,” his mother said. “I’m going to pray about it. And we’ll be praying every minute until you’re home safe with us again.”
Mike gave her a crooked smile, then with a quick wave to all of them, turned and strode out the door and across the tarmac. By sheer willpower he kept his stride steady, refusing to let himself turn to look back at them. He knew that if he did, he’d never make it to the plane.
Every step of the way he could sense their eyes following him, and their love. When he reached the stairs, he ran up them, not letting himself think about what he was leaving behind or what lay before him.
Hurriedly he moved through the open door into the plane’s dim interior, feeling, like the severing of an embrace, the moment when he disappeared from their sight.
J. M. Hochstetler writes stories that always involve some element of the past and of finding home. Born in central Indiana, the daughter of Mennonite farmers, she graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic languages. She was an editor with Abingdon Press for twelve years and has published four novels. Daughter of Liberty (2004), Native Son (2005), and Wind of the Spirit (March 2009), the first three books of the critically acclaimed American Patriot Series, are set during the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times, is the 2009 Christian Small Publishers Fiction Book of the Year and a finalist for the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Long Contemporary Book of the Year.
Hochstetler is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, Nashville Christian Writers Association, and Historical Novels Society. She and her husband live near Nashville, Tennessee.