Monday, December 24, 2012

The Angel

          Hidden from human eyes, Aidan blazed his fiery path close to the ground—low, searching. His wings trailed the light of heaven; his face glowed with the glory of the Throne. There was an urgency to his search, and a tear gleamed in one starry eye. He was almost out of time.
          Shortly before noon, as the humans measured time on Earth, Aidan was summoned into the radiant presence of the Father of Light.  “Thank you for coming, my child. I have a special job for you.” The Father smiled, just a hint of sadness in His eyes as He glanced at the empty golden throne next to His own.
          “Nine long Earth-months,” Aidan commented, guessing what the Father’s thoughts might be. “It’s almost time.”
          Joy lit the Father’s face. “It is. Tonight, My Son will be born.”
          Aidan fell on his face in worship, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving on his lips. “We rejoice with You, dear Father.”
          The Father gently lifted the seraph, placing a loving hand on one of the ange’s six wings. “There isn’t much time. You must go quickly.”
As Aidan flew swiftly through the darkness of space, aiming for a small blue planet many light-years away, he sang to himself. What a marvelous assignment! Surely it would only take a few moments to complete, but what a joy it would be!
Far below him, riding a donkey along a dusty road, a virgin rubbed her swollen belly, biting her lip to keep from crying out. This pain was different from the others, and even with her scanty experience, she knew that this time it was real. Before the pains stopped, she would be a mother.
*        *        *
At the edge of the atmosphere, Aidan paused to think for a moment, mentally dividing the globe into a grid for his search. He chose the southern half first. More sparsely populated, it wouldn’t take long to check.
Even with so few people, it was something of a surprise to find no one matching his search parameters. Several times, Aidan even passed over the horrific site of a human sacrifice. He shook his head sadly. Ever since a short time after the Fall, the great Enemy had succeeded in persuading many of the humans that taking life was the ultimate path to pleasing their god. “Someday you’ll know,” Aidan promised quietly. “The Master is the one who must die, not you.”
Racing through the sky, the angel followed the narrow land bridge up into the Great Land of the North. Crossing from warm to cold, he scanned the snowy landscape for a large settlement, Lighting near a cluster of humble dwellings, he entered the chief’s home, still unseen.
An old woman, her dark skin shriveled and lined, sat to one side surrounded by small, laughing children. The painted skins that formed the walls were barely enough protection from the spring snowstorm that raged outside. Aidan paused to listen to her story.
“Long ago,” she whispered in a quavery voice, “the Great Spirit came near to earth. He reached down with His hand, and gave us stone tables that teach us how to live. He gave us seeds and harvest. He is always watching us.”
Aidan smiled and quietly greeted his friends, the other angels who filled the home, each charged with protecting one of the humans. They were delighted to see the interest the children took in the stories of the old one. Though the Enemy tried, as always, to surround the truth with his own superstitions and falsehoods, he was not able to wipe it out. A pure faith burned in many hearts.
A pure faith…but not the one thing Aidan sought. At last, he moved on, keenly aware that the virgin was now less than a mile from the town where her Child would be born.
The wide, blue ocean only took a few minutes to cross, and the search continued. An ornate palace caught his eye, gleaming with precious stones and  thin leaves of gold, shaped to the contours of the domes. Some of the wisest men in the world walked those blue-tiled paths, and several priceless scrolls written by Jewish prophets rested in their library.
Apparently they were going to have a feast that evening. Servants bustled about, already serving the early guests. Aidan leaned in close, not wanting to miss a word.
“I just received a shipment of spices today,” a tall, sturdy man with a long, white beard commented casually. “Quite nice.”
His friend, barely old enough to sprout a thin, black beard fingered the bag of gold at his waist. He liked to hear its soft jingle. “Lovely. I had a productive day, as well.” He yawned. “I have a productive day every day, though. It gets monotonous.”
“Why don’t we go look at the scrolls we were discussing at our last meeting?” the tall man suggested. Aidan held his breath. This could be it!
“I’m hungry. Let’s eat, maybe dance for a while, and then we’ll see. If Yaron gets here in time, he can play some music.” Both men drifted away, still talking about trivial things.
Aidan was rather disappointed, but decided to make the best of it. Crossing the hall to the library, it took him only a moment to locate the prophetic scrolls, one a copy from the writings of Moses, and two from the hand of Daniel. Before flying away, he pulled all three out and set them on the low table. Even if they weren’t ready quite yet, the philosophers and sages would need them before the night was over.
*        *        *
Pharaoh’s palace towered above the golden sands of Egypt, but Aidan had no time or inclination to admire it. It was so puny compared to the heavenly city, and defaced by the images of false gods. It took only a few moments to realize that no one there was ready for his visit.
Twilight blanketed the land as Aidan finally turned toward Israel. He had saved the best for last. It was just as well, since the white-faced girl, unable to hide her pain any longer, tugged on her husband’s sleeve. “Joseph, I’m sorry. I know it’s almost our turn to register. But I can’t wait much longer.”
Aidan skidded to a stop at the mountaintop fortress of Masada. It wouldn’t take long to check, and it was only right to give the Jewish king an opportunity to welcome the King of Heaven.
On a chilly evening like this, it was no surprise to find Herod in his bath, a steady stream of servants bringing jars of hot water to refresh the huge stone tub. Completely unaware of the celestial visitor, the swarthy monarch motioned for everyone to leave. A sly figure in black crept out of the shadows.
“It’s on the stand,” Herod motioned toward a small bag that jingled as the man hoisted it. “You know what to do.”
The man nodded. “As you command, your highness.” Yet another life to be snuffed out, with no more thought than ordering a meal.
The king leaned back, satisfied, never realizing that every being, watching unseen, knew each drop of blood that soiled his wicked hands. Aidan groaned. There was no joy for him in this place.
The temple—surely there would be someone in the temple. But no, all he could find were two men quarrelling, a priest furtively embezzling from the treasury, and several animal caretakers dragging the last exorbitantly priced sheep and goats from the sacred courtyard. Perhaps the high priest’s palace? No, only more greed and corruption.
“No room,” Joseph heard again and again. On the donkey behind him, his wife whimpered. “We’re full—we just don’t have any extra space.” A few apologized, but most just slammed the door, trying not to see the pain on the girl’s face as she clutched her belly, or the quiet desperation of her husband.
Aidan also grew desperate. His time was almost over, and the mission he thought so simple was about to end in failure. At last, he did just what Joseph had done, and went to every home in Bethlehem. Everywhere he went, he only found people wrapped up in the events of their daily lives, with no interest in anything outside their own experience.
As he reached the last house, long after dark, the angel heard the cry of a newborn baby. A sob caught in his own throat. His beloved commander had arrived, and no one—no one in all the world—was ready to meet Him.
Crushed, Aidan abandoned his silken wings and walked blindly across the hillside. He had failed. Worse than that, his dear Master had come, and been completely rejected, by the great rulers of every nation on earth, and even by His own people.
“Father, what am I supposed to do?” he cried, but no answer came.
*        *        *
As he walked, the sounds of sheep murmuring in the night soothed his ears and eased his troubled heart. A band of shepherds, young and old, huddled around a fire for warmth. The youngest of them all, a hawk-nosed lad of no more than twelve, recited one of the sacred scrolls by memory. The older men listened intently.
But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Aidan’s breath caught in his throat. Could these rough, uneducated men succeed where the most powerful and wealthy men of the world had been weighed in the balances of heaven and been found wanting?
“Immanuel…God with us,” one of the men said reverently. “I understand that part, but not about a virgin conceiving a son. That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know, either. The rabbi thinks it’s just a symbol of something, not a literal prophecy of the Messiah.”
“He’ll be here soon,” an old man of at least nine ty said from the shadows. “I’ve been waiting for Him my whole life.” It was exactly what the angel had been looking for.
Flaming with the glory of heaven, Aidan burst into their sight, hovering just above the fire. The men fell to their faces as one, trembling and uttering shrill cries of abject terror. “Don’t be afraid,” Aidan tried to reassure them.   “I’ve come to bring you some wonderful news—Jesus, your Messiah, has just been born!”
The blackness of the night sky shattered as thousands more angels appeared, voicing the song they had waited so long to sing. “Gloria! Gloria! Glory to God in the highest!” Higher still came the echo, in chords never before heard on earth. “And on earth, peace and good will to all people.”
As the notes of the song died away, the lad looked up at Aidan, his deep brown eyes full of wonder. “Why us? Why did you come to us?”
Aidan slowly drew near, wrapping one strong arm around the boy. “It’s very simple. Because you were waiting for the King.”
Heaven had never seemed so empty as it did that night, nor earth so full. The richest blessings of the universe were poured out on all mankind. Immanuel…God with us.
Soon, very soon, the Son of God will come to earth again. Not as a helpless babe this time, but as the conquering Lord and Savior. Perhaps even tonight, an angel much like Aidan is winging his way across the world. Seeking, searching. Trying to find someone—anyone—who is watching and waiting for the coming of the King.
What will he find when he comes to your home? Will he find you too busy with the amusements of this world to care, or will he find you longing to meet your dearest friend?
Then, at last, will come peace on earth. God will be with us, and we will be with God. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.