A story for Christmas Eve
Once upon a time there was an angel.
Now, all through the stories of the Bible, whenever an angel appears, or at least often enough to make it a habit, the angel will say, “Do not be afraid.”
This makes some people think that angels are quite scary.
But this angel couldn’t frighten a mouse. This angel was so soft and warm, they radiated so much light and joy, that every time they introduced themselves, people just melted.
“Ohhh,” they would say, “what a perfect angel!”
But the angel didn’t want to be adorable. They wanted to be impressive.
One night it seemed as though the angel’s chance had come. They received orders to go to some shepherds on a hill outside Bethlehem, and make a special announcement.
The angel knew that shepherds tended to be quite jumpy, since they spent all their time watching for mountain lions, wolves, and other things that hunt by night. The angel thought they could probably scare a bunch of shepherds pretty well, with the right preparation.
So the angel borrowed sharp-toothed wing feathers from their fiercest friends, and made a mask that was all eyes and fire, and headed off for the skies above the hills above Bethlehem, searching for some shepherds to scare.
They found a few young ones huddled together with their sheep, keeping warm in the winter chill. Here was the angel’s big chance. They drew themself up to their full height (which was about the same as a medium-sized giraffe, if you were wondering) and announced in their loudest, meanest voice,
“Hey, you, shepherds! BE NOT AFRAID!”
Well, the shepherds, who were just children themselves really, looked up and saw the terrible wings made from borrowed feathers, and the terrible mask all eyes and fire, and instead of melting with happiness, they were terrified. And they ran.
That was when the angel first realized that they might just have made a smidgen of an error, a bit of a mistake.
“Not that way,” the angel cried into the increasingly empty night. “You’re supposed to run towards Bethlehem! A baby has been born this night and, oh, what have I done?”
You see, in wanting to make themselves impressive, the angel had forgotten their real mission: to show the shepherds Jesus, the newborn Son of God, good news for the whole world.
Just about then was when the angel realized that they were no longer alone in the sky. A whole heavenly host had gathered behind them, glorious in splendour and all eyes fixed on the forlorn little angel.
The one called Gabriel looked pointedly at the angel and cleared his throat. “Ok then,” he said, “let’s do this.”
And the whole host opened their mouths that were like big barn doorways between heaven and earth, and they began to sing:
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”
And as they sang, gently, sweetly, irresistibly, shepherds and sheep began to creep out from behind the rocks and crags where they had been hiding, and to listen in awe to the angels’ song.
When they had finished all three verses, and had everyone’s attention, Gabriel said to the angel, “Now, let’s try this again.”
The angel shrugged off their borrowed feathers and let the mask of eyes burn itself up and fall away like dust. Then the angel said to the shepherds,
“”Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And the shepherds said, “Oh! That is good news!”
And the sheep said, “Baaaaaahhhh,” which means, “Ohhh, what a perfect angel!”
And everyone headed off to Bethlehem to see the baby.
When they came to the stable where Jesus was lying in a manger full of straw, and saw his glory and tenderness, the love of God wrapped up in a blanket like a Christmas present to the world, they just melted.
“Ohhhhh, oh, what a perfect angel,” they murmured, as they knelt before the Christ-child.
And the little angel melted, too, when they realized that this was who they wanted to be like, after all: this One, whose little fingers and toes preached peace, whose newborn eyes looked only for love, who could make the hardest heart melt, whose perfect human babyness was, and still is, God’s greatest gift to the whole world.
Angel image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons