For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing .
“Brrr, it is cold tonight.” Tess shivered, as she wrapped her brown coat tightly around herself. Monica agreed, reaching up to push her green winter cap into place. Next to them, Andrew and Gloria leaned against a tree, hugging themselves. Gloria reached up to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose. A blanket of snow covered the lawn of the house looming behind them, and the lawn across the street. Although the wind had died down earlier, the air still felt frigid.
Directly in front of them, across the street, a two-story brick church towered; a Christmas wreath, decorated with holly berries and pine cones, hung on its doorway. As a bell tolled in the steeple, light poured out of the church’s open entrance; a Christmas Eve service, the angels knew, was scheduled to begin shortly. Bong! Bong! Bong!
“It certainly is.” Andrew wrapped a woolen muffler around his neck. “A lot colder than that first Christmas night, 2,000 years ago. That is a night I will never forget!”
Tess chuckled. “It was cold enough the shepherds needed a fire!” She bit her lower lip, then leaned forward to glance at the snowflakes covering the toe of her boots. “A lot of people are going to need to keep their heaters on full blast, when they open their presents tomorrow morning.” She reached up to push her black hat lower on her brow.
“Yes, they will, and yes, the shepherds did.” Monica’s brown eyes shone. “I’ll never forget that night, either.” With some difficulty, she unfastened, then refastened the top button of her navy-blue coat with fingers covered by a bright-red wool glove. As she took a step backward, she glanced down at the dead grass crumpled in the footprint her boot had just vacated.
Gloria tilted her head as she gazed at Monica quizzically. This was her first Christmas as an angel, and she had just helped the other three angels with some recent holiday assignments. “Were you there?”
Monica nodded. “Oh, yes! I was there. In fact, I was the angel the Father sent to make that announcement to the shepherds.”
Gloria’s lower jaw dropped as she gaped at the Irish-tongued angel. “You never told me that!”
“Monica doesn’t talk about that night,” Andrew told her. “At least, not to the people whom God sends us to minister to. But she’s told Tess and me all about it. In fact, Tess was a member of the angelic choir sent to speak to the shepherds, at the time it was happening, although it would be millennia before Monica knew of it, or before she and Tess would meet.”
Gloria pulled her cap low on her forehead. “What was it like, Monica?”
Monica gazed past the newest angel as a faraway look crept into her eyes. “It was magnificent, Gloria. A truly holy night. The night the Father sent His one and only Son into the world.” She smiled broadly.
Tess nodded toward a nearby orange bench. “Baby, why don’t you tell Gloria about that night? She can only know what she reads and what we tell her.”
“All right.” Monica led the way toward the bench. The four angels perched on it, hugging their chests, and for a few minutes, they watched people clad warmly in coats, hoods, and winter caps entering the church across the street. Gloria gazed at the Nativity scene set up on the church grounds, left of the doorway, then at the footprints dotting the blanket of snow, leading toward the church’s porch.
“I’ll never, ever forget that night,” Monica repeated. “I had been in Annunciations for quite some time, and God had sent me to deliver messages to many people over the centuries--ever since He first sent me to this earth for my first assignment. But this was to be an announcement like no other. And God ordered it sent to some humble shepherds.”
Gloria nodded. “Was it anything like that Nativity scene? And the others we’ve seen?”
Monica smiled. “Well, yes and no. The Wise Men didn’t make their visits till some time later. The Nativity scenes always show the shepherds and the Wise Men worshipping together, and that’s not the way it happened. However, they did kneel and worship the baby, as you see in the Nativity scenes.” She paused. "And they presented gifts."
Gloria nodded. "Gold and frankincense and myrrh." Monica inclined her head in response.
The Irish-tongued angel paused, leaning her head back, eyes closed. Her luxuriant auburn hair hung down her back. Opening her eyes, she gazed at Gloria, who tilted her head expectantly as she fixed her eyes on the older angel. “I was in Heaven at the time. Just outside the Throne Room, to be exact, with some other angels.” She wrapped her arms around her chest in a vain effort to warm herself. “I was on standby, because the Father had already sent me word that I was going to be needed for a special assignment...”
Monica smiled as she entered the glowing white reception room, where she found other angels waiting for audiences with the Father. A flowing snow-white gown, lit from within, adorned her body, matching the identical gowns worn by the others. Any time now, she knew, the Son being sent to die for the world would be born now. The question was, how would the world be made aware of it when it happened?
The Father will surely send one of us annunciation angels to announce it, she thought. But who? And what is my assignment to be?
She sat gracefully on a soft, amber-colored couch to ponder the possibilities. A Hispanic-looking angel sitting next to her smiled in greeting. “Hello, Monica.”
Monica smiled back. “Hello, Rafael. Are you waiting for an assignment, too?” Rafael nodded.
Suddenly, a familiar angel left the Throne Room; a dazzling light, brighter than the sun, poured through the doorway before he shut it. Monica recognized him immediately; it was the archangel Gabriel, also of Annunciations. She had known him from the beginning of her work in that branch of angelic service. Months before, Monica knew, God had sent him to announce the birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the birth of Jesus to Mary; centuries earlier, God had sent him to deliver a series of messages to Daniel. Unless sent on an assignment, he usually remained in God’s presence. The archangel strode toward Mary. A delicious feeling of anticipation shot through the Irish-tongued angel.
It must be an important assignment if God has told Gabriel to give me my orders, Monica thought. Rising to her feet, she smiled a greeting. “Hello, Gabriel.”
Without preamble, Gabriel beckoned to her. Monica rose to her feet and stepped toward him. “Get ready,” he ordered. “The Father has a special assignment for you, and He wants you to carry it out now. He is sending a chorus of angels to help you, because this assignment is so important.”
Monica took another step toward the other angel. Awe flooded her heart, as his meaning sank in. “You mean--?!”
Gabriel nodded. “Yes, Monica, I do mean. The Savior has just been born, and the Father wants you to announce it.”
Monica nodded. “Whom does He want me to announce it to?”
Gabriel waved downward. “The Father hasn’t told me. You go down to Judea, and the Father will tell you where to go. He will send the other angels to join you when the time is right.”
Nodding acquiescence, Monica left the brilliantly-lit room; in the next instant, she was hovering in the earth’s upper atmosphere. Below her, Jerusalem lay sleeping, darkness covering the buildings like a thick blanket. The air felt cool.
“Where, Father?” Monica asked. “Where do You want me to go?”
She craned her neck to look upwards, as she spoke. Glittering stars thickly dotted the sky overhead. A brilliant, large one hung over Bethlehem, she noticed. I never saw that before! she thought. Where did it come from?
For a few seconds, she hovered, waiting for her orders. When she received them, she gaped at the star-studded sky. “Not priests, God?” she asked. “Not the Jewish Sanhedrin?” She paused. “You want me to announce His birth to some shepherds?”
She paused, then the answer came. “Yes, Monica, some shepherds. Go where I direct you.”
Monica bowed her head in acquiescence. “Yes, Father.”
She found herself zooming toward Bethlehem, as dark and silent as Jerusalem. As she approached the slumbering town, doubts filled her mind. Why shepherds? Surely, the priests or the members of the Sanhedrin could spread the word so much better than humble shepherds could!
Monica bit her lower lip; it was not her place to question God’s wisdom, she knew. “Forgive me, Father,” she whispered. “I know that You always know best, and that You choose whom You see fit to. But wouldn’t a priest have more credibility with the public? Couldn’t the priests act to put the Messiah in His prophesied role as King of the Jews?”
“No, they couldn’t.” Another angel came alongside Monica, a shock of smooth brown hair combed backward. “When His day of rule comes, He will need no man’s help. He is not coming for that purpose now. He’s coming to save the world from sin. His days of rulership will come later.”
He touched Monica’s shoulder. “God sent me to tell you that. The shepherds are exactly whom He wants to announce the news to. And He will reveal it to others, in the days to come. He has already revealed it to some Magi, who are even now following a star to find the newly-born Savior.” He pointed at the brilliant new star in the distance. “That one. It is shining directly over the place where the Baby was born and is now sleeping.”
So that’s why the new star is here, Monica thought. She smiled gratefully, recognizing the brown-haired angel whom the Father had just recently been assigned to serve as an angel of death. “Thank you, Adam. I will remember that.”
“My pleasure.” Smiling back, Adam disappeared...
Monica relaxed her arms, dropping them from her chest. For a long moment, as she clasped her glove-clad hands in her lap, she gazed up at the star-studded sky. “Sometimes, even we angels forget that God has a good reason for everything He does,” she said, softly. “I had forgotten, for a moment, that His choice of shepherds was perfect. It was not my place to question, only to obey.”
Gloria nodded, wrapping her arms around her chest again. In her few months as a brand-new angel, she had already been learning that. “You went on to make that announcement,” she said. It was not a question; she had read the Gospel of Luke more than once over the past month.
Monica nodded in her turn. “Yes. I did.” She paused again, gazing up at the moon hanging suspended over the church. “As Andrew said, it was cold that night, too, although not nearly as cold as it is here. The shepherds were huddled by a fire, chatting...”
“Brrr!” An elderly shepherd held his hands toward the crackling flames. “The fire feels good.”
“Yes,” a young man, barely out of his teens, agreed. “I have never known Bethlehem to be as cold as it is tonight.” With a loud sigh, he did the same; his fingers tingled as his hands turned warm.
“Well, it is December, after all.” Yet another chuckled. “And we will need this fire every night, until the weather turns warmer.” He paused. “It’s usually warmer than this, though. You’re right--it is unusually cold.“
“It sure is,“ Benjamin agreed. “I wish I had the love of a good wife to warm me. I‘m old enough now.”
The young man leaned back. Sighing again, he threw a chunk of dirt at the fire. “When I went to synagogue last month, I saw a young lady. A very pretty one. But before I had a chance to approach her, her parents hustled her off.” He bit his lower lip. “They would not have let her marry a shepherd, would they?”
The elderly shepherd shook his head, compassion etched on his lined, grizzled face. “No, Benjamin. They would not have.”
One of the others smirked. “The whole town looks down on us, yet without us, what would become of the sheep on which people depend? They need us, all of them.” He handed Benjamin a skin of wine. “Here, have some.”
Benjamin took a swig of wine, then handed it to yet another of his comrades. As that shepherd took the skin, he froze. His jaw dropped open; the skin of wine slipped from his hand. For a long moment, as the wine dribbled out of the skin, making a puddle on the dusty ground, the others stared at him, then pivoted to see what he was gaping at. A low moan escaped Benjamin’s throat. “What--what is that--?!”
A brilliant light shone on the hillside behind them. It spread till it encircled their campsite, making every shepherd appear in vivid relief. A moment later, a gorgeous, brilliantly-lit woman, with long auburn hair flowing down her shoulders, emerged out of the light. She wore a snow-white gown, lit from within; her feet were bare. The shepherds leaped to their feet and froze.
“An--an angel!” The elderly shepherd choked down a gasp as he spoke. Terror surged in Benjamin's heart. What on earth was this angel here for?!
“Be not afraid,” the angel said gently. Her brown eyes radiated compassion and caring as she spoke. “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior--which is Christ, the Lord.”
She paused, gazing from one shepherd to another. All stood stock-still, their faces unnaturally pale, despite the hours they spent in the hot sun, tending sheep. With a beaming smile, she continued, “And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
She paused again, fixing her eyes on Benjamin. “My name is Monica. And God has sent me to give you--all of you--” She paused to scan the assembled shepherds, shock etched on their faces. Her eyes shone with joy and love; the kindest, warmest smile Benjamin had ever seen spread across her face. “--this message, because He loves you. And He wanted you to be the first to know this joyous news. In His eyes, you are not lowly, despised shepherds--you are beloved and valued by the Father and Creator of all!”
In that instant, hundreds of angels appeared in the sky, above and behind the lone angel. Monica’s face shone brilliantly as she turned around and craned her neck to look up at them, then turned back to the shepherds.
“Glory to God in the highest,” the angels chorused, “and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” The auburn-haired angel’s voice mingled with the others as they made that announcement. Unknown to Monica, a heavy-set, brown-skinned angel hovered near the top of the angel choir, singing the words fervently.
The angels vanished from sight, including the one who had made the personal announcement. The brilliant light dissipated; the stars reappeared overhead against a black backdrop, twinkling as before. One of them, a new, brilliant one, hung nearby. The stunned shepherds exchanged bewildered glances, as the message sank in, then sank on the ground. Crouching, his knees bent under him, Benjamin stared at the sky, open-mouthed, trying to take in what had just happened. He pressed his palms against the dirt-encrusted ground, pressing his index finger against a hard, cold pebble, as he tried to organize his thoughts.
“The Messiah has been born,” one of them said. “And Jehovah has sent His angels to announce it to us!”
“I can’t believe it,” another muttered. “It’s so hard to believe that God would choose us! We’re just humble shepherds.”
The elderly shepherd smiled. “I believe that’s why God chose us.” He gazed up at the star-studded sky, then wrapped his robe more tightly around himself. “Because we are humble. 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Tonight, we have just been given His grace.”
One of the other shepherds nodded agreement. “Well, let’s not waste any time!” He rubbed his hands, then used his shepherd’s crook to pull himself back into a standing position. “I don’t know about you, but I want to see this new Baby. So let’s go into Bethlehem and see this thing that’s come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
“What about the sheep?” Another shepherd waved toward them, his eyes furrowed with worry.
Benjamin patted his shoulder. “The Lord will guard our sheep until we come back.” The others agreed. One by one, they rose to their feet.
Still hovering in the sky, the dark-skinned angel watched, beaming. “Glory, hallelujah!“ she said, raising her face toward the new star. With a smile of satisfaction, Tess returned to Heaven. Meanwhile, on the city wall, Monica smiled to herself as the shepherds raced toward town, in the direction of the new star. Her mission had been completed; she had announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. She knew what would happen: they would visit Mary and Joseph and the new baby, and then they would share the news with everyone they saw. In that way, the news would spread all over Bethlehem. She raised her own face toward the sky.
“Forgive me, Father,” she said, turning her gaze to the new star that illuminated the humble cave of a stable where the new family had taken temporary residence. “Your will is perfect, as always. I was wrong--the shepherds were the perfect people to make the announcement to.” Beaming, she obeyed God’s silent orders to return to Heaven...
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Gloria clasped her hands in her laps, smiling broadly. The brown woolen gloves encased her fingers, keeping the worst of the cold from freezing them. “What a privilege that must have been--to be the messenger sent to announce the birth of Jesus.” She turned to Tess. “And to think you had a role in the angelic choir that followed up on her announcement!” Tess smiled with evident contentment and satisfaction. Monica’s eyes shone as the memories flitted through her brain.
Andrew smiled in his turn. “It certainly was. And it was Tess’ job to speak to the Wise Men, when the time came.”
Gloria turned to Tess. “Why did God send you to them?”
“Because they had to be warned not to return to Herod,” Tess explained, “and the Father sent me to deliver that warning.” She shook her head, as she tightened her grasp around her middle. For a long moment, frowning, she watched a family of worshippers enter the church across the street. In only minutes, the worship service would begin. “The stakes were high, Gloria. Very high. The very survival of the Christ Child depended on whether they would listen and obey...”
Melchior lay on his smooth silk pallet, trying to go to sleep. This had been a momentous evening. After all the weeks and months of searching, of following the new star, he and his companion had finally found the newborn King! And they had worshipped Him and given Him the presents they had traveled so far to give.
Herod says he wants to worship the Baby, too, he thought, shifting position. He wants us to tell him where the Baby is, so that he can. We must get an early start in the morning, so we can go back to him. He glanced at his now-snoring companions, then closed his eyes. The servants slept nearby in their own tent; their snores sounded faint to his ears.
A flood of light startled him; he opened his eyes to see a shimmering, heavy-set figure with dark-brown skin and grayish-white hair. She wore a flowing, brilliantly-lit, snow-white gown, illuminating the tent. Not daring to move, or even avert his eyes, he gaped at her. Was this a dream, or was this real?
“God has a message for you and your fellow Magi, Melchior,” the angel said. “You are not to return to Herod; you are not to tell him where the new Child is. You are to return to your own country by another way. If Herod learns where the new King is, he will murder Him.” She gave him a stern look as she spoke.
Before Melchior could say anything, the angel faded from sight. The next thing Melchior knew, a kneeling Balthasar was shaking him. Behind Balthasar, sunlight poured through the open tent entrance, forming a rectangle of light on the ground.
“Hurry up, Melchior! We must be on our way.”
“But not to return to Herod.” Pushing himself into a sitting position, Gaspar knelt and rubbed his eyes. “We will not go back to him. An angel visited me during the night, and warned me against that.”
Melchior shook his head, astonishment in his eyes. “An angel gave me the same warning. Was the angel dark-skinned?”
“Yes. And she had an air of authority about her.” Balthasar rose to his feet and donned his red silk robe. “She was a messenger from God, so we must heed her warning.” He looked out the folds of the tent to check on the camels. “We will return to our own country another way.”
As the Magis' servants took down their tents and packed their provisions, Tess stood on a hill behind their campsite, invisible to them; wisps of fluffy clouds drifted overhead. She sighed with relief. “Thank You, Father,” she whispered, clasping her hands in prayer. “If these Wise Men had refused to heed Your warning, I shudder to think what would have been the fate of Your Son.”
"Well, Tess, that won't be happening." Tess' supervisor, Sam, appeared next to her. "Because you carried out your assignment, God's Son will be safe now." He frowned. "But He will still have to be taken out of harm's way for a time. God has sent another angel to warn Joseph to take his family into Egypt."
"Will they be safe there, Sam?" Tess gazed at him.
Sam patted her shoulder. "Yes, they will be safe there. They will stay in Egypt until Herod dies." He vanished.
Tess smiled. A huge weight had been taken off her chest. Satisfied that the newborn Son of God was safe, she strolled away, awaiting the Father’s orders as to where to go next. Little did she know that very shortly, God was going to give Tess her first assignment as a caseworker--to be a food tester for Caesar Augustus...
Gloria smiled broadly. A wistful look crept into her eyes. “You and Monica are so blessed! You got to be the angels involved with the Christ’s birth.” She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, then pulled her cap down over her ears. With furrowed eyebrows, she gazed at Tess. "Did you really work under Caesar Augustus afterward? As a food tester?"
"Yes, I did. It was my first casework assignment, and there would be thousands more to come. I never did manage to lose the weight I gained during that assignment." The supervisor angel shook her head as she glanced down at her ample figure. "Monica, here, did not become a caseworker until 1994, 19 centuries later."
Tess put a hand on the newest angel’s arm. “You are blessed, too, baby, even though God didn’t call you into being till 2,000 years later.” The supervisor angel smiled. “The first coming of Jesus is two millennia past, but His second coming lies ahead. And, judging from world conditions, it will not be long now.” She patted Gloria’s shoulder. “You will have an active part in that coming, when the time comes.”
“Yes, you will. We all will.” Monica straightened her woolen cap. She shifted position on the bench‘s hard, unyielding seat. “And when He does return, it will be to rule, just as He prophesied thousands of years ago. And as Adam told me, back then, Jesus will need no man’s help when He sets up His kingdom on this earth.” She smiled. “Until that time comes, Christmas will be a time of rebirth. Of healing. Of miracles, even. As our recent assignments found out, when we were sent to them.”
Gloria nodded. One of their Christmas assignments--a former high-school teacher--had been without hope or purpose until the angels revealed to him that he still mattered, and that he had made a difference in the lives of his students. Another, more recent--a family devastated by the loss of a good friend on 9-11--had learned that “peace on earth, good will toward men” was more than just a wishful dream, even in this age of terrorism.
“What about you, Andrew?” Gloria turned to the angel of death. “Did God give you a role in that event?”
Andrew shook his head. “Not a direct role, but I was given the privilege of watching the whole thing from the Throne Room. Tess herself told me about her role, later.” He smiled. “I was a caseworker in those days--I wouldn’t become an angel of death till right after Lincoln’s assassination. But Adam was, even then.”
A bitter-cold breeze rose, chilling their faces and mussing Monica and Gloria’s hair. The branches swayed on the trees across the street. Suddenly, organ music wafted from the church.
Tess rose to her feet. “And now, suppose we go to their Christmas Eve service?” She looked from angel to angel. “I don’t know about you, but I want to hear some old-fashioned caroling!”
Laughing, the other angels stood up and followed Tess toward the church entrance. Pausing on the doorstep, Tess smiled at the twinkling stars overhead. “Glory, hallelujah! Glory to God in the highest!” The other angels echoed her sentiments, then followed her inside. Overhead, a dove flew over the steeple, cooing.
©2003, by Kathy Green
Bump for another Christmas.
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Bump for Christmas 2019!
I'm bumping this a little early this year; this way, there'll be more time to enjoy it before Christmas Day arrives! =)
Bump for Christmas Day!