Roads to Joy
Dr. Keith Wagner
It was Christmas Eve, and, as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the office. He walked over to a massive safe, spun the dials, swung the heavy door open. Making sure the door would not close behind him, he stepped inside. A square of white cardboard was taped just above the topmost row of strong-boxes. On the card a few words were written. George Mason stared at those words, remembering…
Exactly one year ago he had entered this self-same vault. And then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly the ponderous door swung shut. He was trapped–entombed in the sudden and terrifying dark. He hurled himself at the unyielding door, his hoarse cry sounding like an explosion. Through his mind flashed all the stories he had heard of men found suffocated in time-vaults. No time clock controlled this mechanism; the safe would remain locked until it was opened from the outside. He would have to wait until tomorrow morning. Then the realization hit him. No one would come tomorrow–tomorrow was Christmas.
Once more he flung himself at the door, shouting wildly, until he sank on his knees exhausted. Silence came, high-pitched, singing silence that seemed deafening. More than 36 hours would pass before anyone came, 36 hours in a steel box three feet wide, eight feet long, seven feet high. Would the oxygen last? Perspiring and breathing heavily, he felt his way around the floor. Then, in the far right-hand corner, just above the floor, he found a small, circular opening. Quickly he thrust his finger into it and felt, faint but unmistakably, a cool current of air. The tension release was so sudden that he burst into tears. But at last he sat up. Surely he would not have to stay trapped for the full 36 hours. Somebody would miss him. But who?
George was unmarried and lived alone. The maid who cleaned his apartment was just a servant; he had always treated her as such. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves, and expected presents. A friend had asked him to go to a home for elderly people on Christmas Day and play the piano since George was a good musician. But he had made some excuse or other; he had intended to sit at home with a good cigar, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself. George dug his nails into the palms of his hands until the pain balanced the misery in his mind. Nobody would come and let him out. Nobody, nobody.
Miserably the whole of Christmas Day went by, and the succeeding night. On the morning after Christmas the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe, then went on into his private office. No one saw George Mason stagger out into the corridor, run to the water cooler, and drink great gulps of water. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home. There he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast and returned to his office, where his employees greeted him casually.
That day he met several acquaintances and talked to his own brother. Grimly, inexorably the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from human society during the great festival of Christian fellowship; no one had missed him at all. Reluctantly, George began to think about the true meaning of Christmas. Was it possible that he had been blind all these years with selfishness, indifference, pride? Wasn’t giving, after all, the essence of Christmas because it marked to the time God gave His own Son to the world?
All through the year that followed, with little hesitant deeds of kindness, with small, unnoticed acts of unselfishness, George Mason tried to prepare himself. Then, once more, it was Christmas Eve. Slowly he backed out of the safe and closed it. He touched its grim steel face lightly, almost affectionately, and left the office.
There he went in his black overcoat and hat, the same George Mason as a year ago, or was he? He walked a few blocks, then flaged a taxi, anxious not to be late. His nephews were expecting him to help them trim the tree. Afterwards, he was taking his brother and his sister- in-law to a Christmas play. Why was he so happy? Why did this jostling against others, laden as he is with bundles, exhilarate and delight him? Perhaps the card has something to do with it, the card he taped inside his office safe last New Year’s Day. On the card is written, in George Mason’s own hand: “To love people, to be indispensable somewhere, that is the purpose of life. That is the secret of happiness.”
For a period of some 36 hours, George Mason was locked in a vault with no way out. There was no doorway to freedom, no window, no escape hatch, no road to lead him away from his personal misery and darkness.
Just like the people of Isaiah’s day, there was no road for them. They were in a desert wasteland with no water for survival. There was no fertile soil to grow crops. They were trapped, doomed in a barren place, with no apparent way to be liberated from their bondage. So in a vivid and prophetic manner, Isaiah tells them that “a highway will be there.” A highway, a road to freedom, a road to joy, a road that would lead them from their despair. It was a road where there would be joyful singing, one that would lead them to eternal happiness.
The highway for them is the same as it was for George Mason. It was opened when there was a change of heart, when God’s people began to realize the abiding presence of God and their dependence upon God. When God’s people choose to take the paths that God provides, roads to joy, leading them to new life.
There is a road for anyone who is feeling trapped or stuck. But, before that road can be traveled there must be destruction of the old. The old George Mason had to die before the new George Mason could travel that new road. Isaiah’s listeners had to have their world destroyed before they could understand the new world that God was creating.
My wife and I frequently go to Troy, which is 20 miles south of Sidney, for dinner. The last year and a half there has been construction on I-75.They are widening it and making 3 lanes instead of 2. I am anxious for the construction to end because of the cement barriers that line the current road. It seems like it would be simpler to just add a lane along side the existing ones. It is taking forever and the traffic through that area is dangerous.
But, instead of just adding a lane they have totally dug up the old road and replaced it with a new one. It’s the only way a new road can be constructed. It will be much safer to travel and some of the dips and hills will be smoothed out. When they finish it will be more pleasant to drive south to Dayton or Troy than in the past. We just have to be patient and allow the old road to be removed as we anticipate the new road that is being built.
Our lives are like that. We want newness but are we willing to bury the old? George Mason was trapped until he rid himself of his indifference and selfishness. Unfortunately it took being locked up in a safe in order for him to see himself as he really was. We don’t have to spend 2 days in a safe to travel a new road. There is a new highway for all of us when we are willing to allow our old ones to be destroyed. New relationships, new understandings, new opportunities can all be realized when we let go of the old ones which are keeping us from being fulfilled or experiencing the joy of life.
As Isaiah says, “A highway shall be there…. everlasting joy shall be upon our heads; we shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
––Copyright, 2001, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.