Thursday, December 24, 2009

wings, crooks, straw

These are the draft texts for the three stories I'm going to tell tonight at the First Baptist Church of Berwyn Christmas Eve Service. So, if you're coming, don't read them.

Merry Christmas, internet.


tone: regal, bold, ancient, majestic. Stand tall, move gracefully.

I've been an angel since the dawn of time, but I don't pretend to understand the mind of God.

Look: being an angel is pretty simple: you adore the throne of God, and you deliver messages for God.

I was good at it, I guess, as good as you can be at something that's just in your nature. Are you good at breathing? Then, I guess I'm good at delivering messages for God.

Most of the time the messages were pretty straight-forward; You, So and so, daughter of such and such. Go to this appointed place and do this appointed thing.

Other times, it was giving someone a message to pass on from God. Tell Pharoah to let my people go, that sort of thing. Big things and little things, scary things and hopeful things. Since the dawn of time, as I said, I've been delivering messages from God.

Things were always straight-forward: people were people, God was God, and I was an angel. You could tell I wasn't one of the people, because I had wings. You've seen them in paintings, but mortal paintings don't do angel wings justice. They are pure reflections of the glory of God. You can tell when you're seeing an angel, because of those wings.

Then came that night. That terrible, holy night. For the first time, since the dawn of time, I didn't know what to do when I got the message. It didn't make sense. It's not like I always know why God wants so and so to go do such and such, but this!

God was becoming incarnate. God was going to have a body. God was going to be a human being, a person.

I would have argued with God, but such is not in my nature.

And there was more- the people I was supposed to tell about it! Sure, God talks to all kinds of people, and I've delivered some messages to all kinds of people, but this! The most momentous event since the dawn of time, and I wasn't supposed to tell the rulers- the kings, the emperor. I wasn't supposed to tell the priests in the temple, and I wasn't even supposed to tell that many people. Just some homeless shepherds, out in the fields.

But I went. Because I am an angel of the Lord, and I've been delivering messages from God since the dawn of time.

Look. I should mention this other thing.

I like being an angel, I do. But it's often kind of lonely work. You're delivering messages to people, you see, you know, once. And you're adoring the throne. And there are other angels, but you don't ever see them, really- it only takes one of you to deliver a message, after all.

So the first thing that night, was what I was proclaiming.

And the second thing, that night, was who I was proclaiming it to.

And the third thing, that night, was that after I gave my message, I looked and saw another angel, there in the sky, and another and another until the sky was full.


So... After that night, after that child, things have been different.

I don't know about the wings thing, anymore. Used to be there were clear differences: God and human beings, angels with wings and people without them.

But now...

On that night, heaven and earth kissed one another. And they haven't stopped embracing since.

And now, whenever I see people: all people, any people: I see them all with wings.


tone: almost broken, tired, world-weary, unflinchingly tough. Shrug a lot.

I suppose I shouldn't have been suprised. It's been happening this way for hundreds of years. When I was a kid, things were okay for us. I was the only daughter. We had a little farm. But the Romans said my parents owed too much in taxes, and they sold the farm to a big landowner. Whether they actually owed the money or not, what could we do?

So, with no land there was no money, and with no money there was no dowry, and with no dowry, I didn't have a lot of options. I'm grateful for how it worked out, I guess. The shepherd job I got, for that same big landowner, is much better than what some women in my situation have had to do.

But it's not a great job. The pay is lousy, just enough to scrape by, and you're deeper in debt every year. The conditions are bad, too: sleeping out every night. It gets cold, even this time of year. You can never really sleep when you're looking after sheep- you never know when one will get attacked or injured or sick. And there are other dangers, for a woman shepherd, in the wilderness. It got to the point where I was a little bit cold all the time, and tired all the time, too.

The other shepherds were alright, some of them, but they didn't really think women should be shepherds so they were allies at best. When I was a kid I would have laughed at what shepherds thought: dirty, poor, foul-smelling shepherds. But now, here I am.

And this is all to say nothing of the sheep. Dirty, stupid, mean. Just as soon bite you as look at you, these sheep anyway. So, I was surviving, but...

And then that night. I don't know whether it was more miraculous that God became a human being or that God wanted to tell me about it. Me and my shepherd friends. Angels came. To us. To us!

So we went, to see the child. What else could we do?

When I went to see the child, I didn't feel tired. I didn't feel outcast, I didn't feel poor, I didn't feel foul-smelling.

Instead I felt faithful. I felt joyful. I felt triumphant.

And it's how I feel now. (shrug.)


tone: nervous, anxious. Excited, a little bit. Until the end. Wring your hands and scratch, awkwardly. Talk kind of fast.

I guess the funny thing is that I was feeling like everything was coming together for me. I was starting off in my father's business, and like, I finally had some money coming in, and my family set me up with this girl, that everybody said would be, would be a good wife.

But then, the girl- Mary- she got pregnant, and it wasn't my baby, I knew that much, and people were saying all kinds of things about what I should do, but I decided that I should just you know, break things off quietly, not make a big deal about it, not get her into trouble. I was just trying to do the right thing, you know? And she had enough problems without me adding to it.

So that's what I was going to do, and I was all set to do it...


I had this dream or this vision or I don't even really know what it was, but after that it seemed like I should stay with her, like I should still marry her.

But then, right away, she left for three months to visit her relative, and I don't blame her, but it was just hard to be on my own in all of that, and people in the village were talking about her, and us, and they were talking about me. And I was worried that it would hurt my business, hurt my family, and everything...

So when she came back, and then things looked like they were going to get easier, then of course the romans decide they haven't been keeping us under control efficiently enough, so there's this whole census thing and I have to go back to where my family is, and of course Mary is just so pregnant, and I don't have to tell you it was a difficult trip for her.

And through it all she was just remarkably calm, you know, even when we got to Bethlehem and I couldn't find anybody who knew where I was, and nobody would let us stay in their inn because I think they were waiting for somebody with more money because it was crowded there from the census and anything. And pretty soon we were desperate just to find a place out of the noise and cold and awful of the streets. Nobody wants to sleep on the street, and definitely nobody wants to give birth on the street and Mary was pretty sure it was her time.

And the way she looked at me, when we walked into the stable, as it was becoming apparent that it was this stable or the streets, and the way she looked at me, the way we looked at each other. It was like, “well, here we are, and we sure as hell didn't plan it to happen this way, but this is what's happening, so hey, here we are.”

Because there were animals everywhere, and it was out of the wind, sure, but it wasn't all that warm, and it was a stable, you know, which is to say it was filthy, and there was straw on the ground that was matted with dirt and muck, and that was going to be our bed, that was where she was going to give birth. Not a bed, or even a mat, but just dirty, smelly straw!

And all through that night, while she was in birth pain I was just worrying. I mean, I was trying to help, but there was only so much I could do, and so there was a lot of time just to worry.

And I worried about my business.

And I worried about my family.

And I worried about Mary.

And I worried about the Romans and their census and their taxes and their soldiers.

And I worried about this child, this baby, I worried about whose it was, whether what the people said about it was true, whether what I dreamed about it was true, and I just worried, all night long.


After the baby came, there was a moment. There was a moment that seemed like it was going to be brief, but truth be told, it has continued. When I saw the baby, when I held the child still covered in blood from the birth.

I knew that things were going to be different. That all of the things that I had been worried about- my job and my family and the Romans and who the father was. All of that didn't matter. This child, this baby scattered all of those worries to the wind. He scattered them like straw.