Last week, my grouchy toy bear Griz began telling me how he flew with his jackdaw friend Bergdohle to witness the arrival of angels in Bethlehem…
We found a rock where we could hide from the wind while we waited. I was so excited.
“They’re coming soon, Bergdohle,” I told him. “Then we’ll find out what really happened that night, and what the message was. And angels? How do they – ?”
..“Just let me rest,” the black bird panted. “That’s the first time I ever got time-travel to work, and I must say it wore me out.”
“Relax,” I told him. “I’ll wake you when they come.”
I was really feeling pretty mellow. Here I had an opportunity to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears one of the few recorded incidents of angels visiting human beings.
I’d return to the present with the real scoop about Christmas. I’d be able to tell people how Christmas is s’posed to be celebrated. Not with tinsel and partying and his ‘n her motorcycles, but with peace on earth and good will to everyone. I could hardly wait.
Well, you’ll never believe what happened next. Here we were, watching for angels and a star; waiting for singing choruses and dumb-struck shepherds and news about a baby that would save the world. And what do you suppose we got instead?
That dark night was suddenly ablaze with blinding light. At first I thought the sky had opened and the heavenly hosts were pouring out of it.
White-robed creatures with wings and haloes? No way. Rapturous music? Harps and sopranos? Golden chariots? Not hardly.
What we got were not angels, but Marines. United States Marines. Their chariots were tanks and landing craft, and the light was from a million cameras and floodlights. They weren’t stepping out of heaven; they had come by ship and by plane.
And they were definitely not singing songs of peace and hope. They were shouting orders and their tanks were roaring. The din was deafening.
We weren’t in Bethlehem in A.D. 4. We were in Somalia in 1992!
“Bergdohl!” I shook that stupid bird awake. “What happened? Why aren’t we in Bethlehem? You said I’d see angels and tell everybody in 1992 what they’re doing wrong.”
“Wait a minute, fuzzy butt,” Bergdohle interrupted me. “I said I’d try to take us back into time, and I did that. But you were the one with the sanctimonious idea you could straighten out Christmas. I never much thought it needs straightening.”
And he fluttered to the top of the rock I was huddling behind, and began calmly preening his shiny feathers.
I felt furious, but I admit I wasn’t sure if I was mad at him or at myself for being such a fool. I had wanted so much to see how Christmas was supposed to be that I was ready to believe a dumb bird could fly me through the centuries. Now all I wanted to do was get out of there.
“Come on, Bergdohle, let’s go home!” I yelled. “This is no place for an imaginary bear and an imaginary blackbird. This is real stuff and has nothing to do with Christmas.”
He hopped to the ground and strutted around behind the rock with an infuriatingly casual air.
“All right,” he said. “Climb on my imaginary back, and maybe I can get us home.”
“Oh, Bergdohle,” I cried. “I need to find a quiet place where I can sit down and sort this out. I’m more confused than ever.”
I clambered up and put my arms tight around the bird’s neck. He spread his wings and with steady strokes we rose into the air.
But we were barely above the rooftops when he turned and shouted through the wind: “One more look before we go, and we swooped across a dusty field where people had gathered as though they too were waiting for angels.
The noise of the Marines and the glaring lights had not reached this place. There was little movement among the silent people.
The children in the crowd looked like skeletons, the flies already gathering about them. Flies eat well in Somalia. I’d never seen children before who did not laugh, did not play. I’d never seen children waiting for angels.
“Oh, please, Bergdohle,” I begged him. “Take me home. This isn’t what I want to see at all. We swirled upwards into the cold darkness again, higher and higher, and soon we saw the Big Bear.
“Which way is home, Ursa Major?” I called out, hoping to impress him with his proper name.
“Back so soon?” His voice boomed through the universe. “What happened in Bethlehem?”
He was laughing at me, I knew that, but I blurted out my disappointment anyway.
“We never got there. There are no angels. There’s only noise and confusion and glaring lights and starving children. What do Marines have to do with Christmas?”
“More than you know, Ursa Very Minor,” the great bear replied. “More than you know. Maybe Marines are angels.”
“Stop, Bergdohle,” I yelled. “Big Bear, what do you know and how do you know it?”
Ursa Major laughed aloud, and pointed to Cassiopeia’s Chair. We perched on the edge and leaned forward to hear.
“I’ve roamed these night skies since God flung the stars and the moon into space, and I’ve watched and I’ve listened,” the great bear said. “And I was here the night the angels visited the earth. The angels didn’t say everything would be just fine evermore. Their message was a message of hope. The angels brought news of joy for all the people of earth because the Savior of the world was born.”
“I don’t think the message got to Somalia,” I told him. “There’s no hope there.”
“No hope?” roared the celestial bear. “What do you think the U.S. Marines represent? Their arrival brought hope to mothers trying desperately to keep their children alive, the first hope they have had in many months.”
“But God didn’t send the Marines!” I argued.
“Griz!” The Big Bear’s voice was like thunder. “Human beings are not naturally inclined to do good things. They have to be taught to love, taught to do good. Only a God big enough to live on Earth as a helpless baby could teach them. Think about it!”
I held my furry friend tight in my arms, as he told me how Bergdohle had brought them safely through the Geminid shower and home. He was so small and perplexed and had so much to think about. It was obvious he had had a profound experience, but space- and time-travel?
“Griz,” I began. “Do you really expect me to believe such a tale? Do you think I could make it up?”
“Nah,” he said slyly. “I saw them angels, I mean. I think those children saw them too.
“Here.” He held out a stubby paw. “I brought you something.” In my hand he placed a ragged chunk of rock. It was a meteor, one side still cold from outer space, the other hot from burning through Earth’s atmosphere.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.