On a snow-covered hill, when I was in junior high, my life flashed before my eyes. In the brilliance, I caught a glimpse of God.
Locals know the glacially carved peak as “Lucas Hill”—a stony knob of dirt rising ominously over the vale where my tiny junior high building sat shadowed. Sixth through eighth grades met in an old four-room schoolhouse. To the east, above us, sat Lucas Christian Reformed Church. To the north, above us, Benthem’s dairy farm. To the south, higher than all, stood the hill.
Around Christmastime each year, lake-effect weather from mighty Lake Michigan would dump layers of fresh, powdery snow over the grass and bramble. It became a place of beauty. It became a place of terror.
Each recess we would don our mittens and coats, pull on our soggy boots, and grab our sleds to ride the beast. Mr. Westmaas, the science teacher, clocked students at close to 50 mph (80 kph). But gravity wasn’t the real danger. Evil was. And evil was in the eighth grade.
Those older boys, freakishly large to my sixth-grade eyes, had developed a sport to Olympic precision: smashing younger kids. They came prepared. Their chariots of pain were well crafted. Two orange hard-plastic sleds were bolted firmly together for added weight. A block of foam wrapped in black garbage bags and lashed down with frayed duct tape served as a seat. Like a pack of wolves they waited, sneering, at the top of the hill, until a small, skinny underclassman headed down it. Then the hunt would commence. One goal: annihilation. Shaming, painful annihilation. Broken bodies. Broken spirits.
It was recess, and there I sat atop the hill on my flimsy, single-ply sled. Heart racing. I was beginning to understand the calculus of nature’s two primordial forces: gravity plus sin equals pain. The wind whipped off the surrounding fields. But my cheeks were rosy for another reason. Fear. Then I felt it. Gruff hands pressing on my back. One of the older boys had exited his sled and was trying to push me down—a sacrifice to their dark intentions.
He was stronger. I had no hope. That’s when my life flashed before my eyes. I could envision the pain. The humiliation. Fear gripped me.
Then it happened.
Like a streak of grace, another young kid, equally small and vulnerable, headed off to my rescue. Pushing himself to the front, he voluntarily took the bull’s-eye off my back. Throwing his tiny body between the pincers of earthly gravity and human sin, he headed down the hill like a lamb to the slaughter.
Instinctively, the wolves followed their new target, leaving me to breathe under the bright sun atop the glistening snow. I was saved.
Many winters later, I reflect on that cold day. It has become a picture of rescue and grace. A small picture of Christmas. Eternity flashing before his eyes, the second person of the Trinity submitted himself to pain and humiliation. Plunging into a wooden manger through terrestrial gravity, he took on the hateful forces of human sin. With Herod, Pilate, and the Devil himself sneering, Jesus slid over the brim of earth’s knob. Vulnerable. Meek. Tiny.
Then, in a brilliant streak of grace, he absorbed the wrath. He went where we feared. He took our place. Now we sit with rosy cheeks, breathing in freedom by the gulp in a world washed whiter than snow.