For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law requested that I write for her a Christmas story. Here’s what she got:
Jesus rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes. “Explain it to me one more time, Gloria.”
“It’s Christmas,” said the angel. “Not here, of course. On earth. This is what they do.”
They walked from the porch of the recently completed home out to the street and turned back to survey the spectacle they’d been discussing for well over an hour. Icicle lights dangled from the gutters. Two-dimensional reindeer, outlines wrapped in white lights, stood in frozen frolic by the mailbox.
Jesus turned his attention to the roof. “What is that?”
“That’s Santa Claus. Or St. Nicholas, if you’re trying to be charming. The story goes that he flies that sleigh around the world and brings toys to all the good kids on Christmas Eve.”
Jesus’ brow wrinkled, then his eyes flickered with recognition. “Nicholas from 3rd street? The one that used to put coins in the shoes of the kids in his village? I thought they had a different day for remembering him. And… smaller ways of doing that.”
“Well, they used to. Somewhere along the way it somehow got combined with your birthday.” The angel winced. “I mean Christmas.”
“They don’t even know when my birthday is,” Jesus said, now agitated. “How could they forget that? It was three months ago. I even wrote it down for them in my journal before I left. Then they lost that and Mark and Matthew had to sit down with Luke to try to remember it later. And then John made one on his own. But how do you lose the gospel according to JESUS!?”
“I didn’t mean to bring it up. I meant to say Christmas.” The angel shook her head, embarrassed.
Jesus glared at the house. “And while we’re on the subject—anyone at next year’s party that says, ’33 again, Jesus?’ is going to have an abrupt encounter with the limits of my grace.”
“Fair enough. Can we move back to the task at hand?”
“OK.” Jesus paused. “Wait. Who is that?” he said, pointing to an illuminated plastic figurine standing off by itself.
“Umm… our information is that it’s supposed to be you.”
“Me?” Jesus blinked a few times in succession in disbelief. “Me? Why do I look like that? Do they think I was born in Indiana and reached adulthood in the 1970s? And why is it an adult version of me? I thought their tradition was about the baby me.”
“Well… it’s not just about you anymore. Stuff has gotten mixed in. A lot of the finer points of the narrative get lost in translation when it comes to decorating.”
“Is that why there’s an American flag over the manger in that nativity scene?”
“Probably. The Americans in particular have a way of involving patriotism in their religious celebration. ‘God on our side’ and all that.” The angel fidgeted with her clipboard.
“Who do they think they are, Israel?”
“Jesus, can we please focus?”
“More like Rome, if you’re asking me.”
“Fine. Who lives here and how did this mess get this far without someone stopping them?”
“They’re the Brightons,” the angel began to explain. “Mabel arrived a month ago; her husband Sam won’t be arriving for another week and a half. Everyone has an adjustment period when they reach heaven; generally speaking we try to only make them process one devastating ‘I didn’t think heaven would be like this’ moment at a time. Mabel was already so shocked that the Catholics were here we just didn’t feel that it would be right to pull the rug on hyper-festive Christmas at the same time.”
“That makes sense, I suppose.” Jesus let his eyes wander across the yard again. “How did she even get all of this stuff here?”
“Transportation issue. A paperwork mix-up brought it all here the day she was supposed to arrive, and she spent an uncomfortable and nearly unfortunate day at the Treasures of Earth incineration center. Close call, really. All that smoke & fire sure had her going for a minute.” The angel hesitated, then said, “We’re at a little bit of a loss as to what to do. If it’s not all gone when her husband gets here in a week and a half, it will then become part of his new reality too—then we’ll have to leave it up until you-only-knows-when. And it’s not like we have New Year’s here in eternity; they’ll never know when to take it down. To make things worse, Ezekiel has been camped out across the street with his notebook staring at the house for three days. There’s no telling what crazy mess he’s writing for the newspaper; you know how terrible he is at describing what he sees.”
“Alright,” Jesus said. “Let’s go talk to her.”
This wasn’t the first time heaven had struggled with Christmas. Every fifty years or so (more or less often, depending what was going on in world events) human thought had shifted about Christmas, unknowingly briefly creating havoc on the other side of eternity. Every time the church changed its position on accepting/rejecting the holiday the angels knew to brace for surprise & concern among new arrivals 20 years down the road. When the American colonies rejected Christmas as a British holiday, heaven’s zoning committee momentarily considered geographically separating the Brits & Yanks in heaven with one of the populations from another world religion, but ultimately decided that would be even more confusing & troubling for everyone involved.
This batch of Christmastide mayhem was a new flavor, to be sure. For the first time in a while the Christmas that people were trying to bring with them to heaven really had very little to do with Jesus and, more importantly, was impossible to accommodate in heaven. The absence of materialism in heaven proved a blow to the current core of the holiday, as did the nonexistence of corporations to drive the feeding frenzy. Not that they hadn’t tried to come; Enron was neither the first nor the last company to be turned away at the gate, sincerely believing it had individual rights and deserved to be there.
So Christmas on earth largely stripped of Christ meets Christmas in heaven, completely stripped of gluttony. What is left? Decorations. And for the first time, decorations had made it in.
Jesus pressed the doorbell with his index finger. “Do you think that…” he trailed off mid-question, listening. “What is that?” he asked.
“Her doorbell is playing a Christmas song. I believe it’s ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’” answered the angel.
So they waited. And waited. “Seriously?” Jesus said. “Are you sure that she’s home?”
As the digital warble of the battery powered carol beeped out the final notes of “…and a partridge in a pear treeeeeeee” Mabel eased open the door, giggling behind her mug of hot chocolate. “I’m sorry to make you wait my dears; I hadn’t gotten to hear the whole thing yet. Just had it installed yesterday and you’re my first callers. Please do come in.”
They walked to the living room—or at least that’s the simplest way to describe the journey. Jesus’ mind boggled through the 18 steps from the door to the plastic-covered sofa. Figurines and candles and mini-villages and elves and Christmas cards covered every available flat surface. “What is ‘Coca-Cola?’” Jesus whispered to the angel.
“It’s a beverage. It’s not really part of the story. More of a sponsor,” the angel replied softly.
“Umm,” Jesus began, “are you still receiving mail?” He gestured toward a wall, covered floor to ceiling in Christmas cards.
“Oh no, dear.” Mabel smiled, and moved to replace one of the cards that had dropped to the floor. “I’ve saved them over the years to put back out as decorations. These are all earth-cards.”
“Earth-cards?” Jesus wasn’t sure how much more he wanted to learn today.
“Yes, dear.” Mabel retrieved the card and put on her glasses, which hung around her neck on a chain of plastic precious stones. She flipped open the card. “Oh, I love it when they put their animal’s paw prints next to the family names. Such a dear family, the Browns. Hard to believe Dottie passed some 15 years ago now.” She removed her glasses and tucked the card up under one of the strips of ribbon holding the other cards against the wall. “There, that’s better.”
As she moved to return to her seat the sleeve of her housecoat knocked loose 3 more cards that fluttered unnoticed to the floor.
“Yes, earth-cards,” she continued, the plastic seat cover crackling as she settled back into her chair. “So much is different here that I’ve been trying to keep track by where things are from. My heaven-friends are wonderful, but my earth-things are great reminders. And no one here seems particularly concerned that it’s Christmas, so I’m having to try extra hard this year to be in the spirit.”
“The Spirit?” Jesus sat forward a little, hope suddenly rising.
“Yes, dear, the spirit of Christmas. You know, peace and goodwill and all that.” Mabel sipped her hot chocolate.
“Oh.” Jesus settled back again.
“If I might interrupt a moment,” said the angel, who had produced a folder from within her robes, “why are you still wearing glasses? Do you still need them?”
“Oh no, dear,” Mabel chuckled. “My heaven-eyes are wonderful. But I was so used to my earth-glasses that I still wear them. I did pop the lenses out, of course, to prevent headaches. My earth-eyes were quite poor, you see.”
“Oh good,” said the angel, relieved. She initialed a check box on a form and the folder vanished back into her robes. “Mabel, we’re here to talk about Christmas.”
“Well how delightful!” Mabel brightened noticeably. “I do love to talk about Christmas.”
Jesus went first. “Mabel, you mentioned that you’d noticed that no one here really seemed to be making a big deal about Christmas. Have you talked to anyone about why it’s not that big of a deal here?”
“Well naturally at first I presumed it was because of the Catholics, but they all seem like good souls so far. I guess it hadn’t occurred to me to just ask.” Mabel adjusted the doily under the holly leaf-shaped candy bowl on the end table. “I don’t know why I’m the only one who wants Christmas this year. It makes me feel so awfully alone.”
The angel shifted to pat Mabel’s hand and in doing so lodged her knee just under the edge of the coffee table, unsetting a tranquil miniature countryside Christmas panorama. Half of the trees fell down and the little train that had been clicking along the table top through fields and around the outskirts of town abruptly jumped track and barreled down main street, obliterating a cluster of carolers and burying itself in the schoolhouse at the end of the tiny rural road. The angel jumped to her feet, upending the table in a cloud of coconut-shaving snow. “Oh… oh.” The angel cringed. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s all right, dear,” Mabel assured her. “I had been thinking about moving it to the foyer anyway.” She fumbled with the schoolhouse, carefully extracting the engine of the train and silencing it at last with a flip of the tiny switch on its belly. “My goodness, what a disaster for my little town. I’m afraid they never saw it coming.” She shuffled to the laundry room to retrieve her vacuum.
“Maybe I should go away and come back later,” Jesus suggested to the angel.
The angel shook her head. “Didn’t work last time,” she replied.
They worked together to clear the mess from the carpet, then righted the table and returned to their seats.
“I’m quite tired now,” declared Mabel. “Christmas is exhausting.”
Seeing an opportunity to redeem herself in the conversation, the angel took the lead. “What about Christmas exhausts you, Mabel?”
“Oh, it’s not just any one thing, dear.” Mabel pretended to clean her lens-less glasses. “It’s everything—from putting up the decorations to remembering who you’re supposed to invite over, to sending cards you want to send and cards you have to send, getting the just-right gifts for just the right people, it’s just… everything.”
The angel pressed on. “But a few minutes ago when you were talking about the ‘spirit of Christmas’ you didn’t mention any of those things. You were talking about peace and goodwill.” She paused for a moment, then added, “It just seems like all of that exhausting stuff would only distract you from enjoying peace and goodwill.”
“Oh it does, dear,” said Mabel. “That’s why I decorate so. To remind me when I get home how much I love the peace and goodwill. I like to be reminded. It makes it all seem worthwhile again.” Mabel’s expression lit up with sudden recollection. “I forgot when you booted my Christmas village into next week that I was about to ask you both something—why doesn’t anyone else decorate here?”
Jesus jumped in. “There are a few reasons, Mabel. For starters, we don’t really keep track of time here like you did on earth. When you’re dealing with eternity, marking it off on a calendar seems a bit silly. Besides that, we don’t have any decorations. Partly because Christmas has never been as big of a thing here and partly because we don’t need reminding. And that’s where we’re going to need you to trust us.”
“Not as big of a thing?” Mabel burst out. “How could the coming of Jesus to earth not be a big thing?”
“Because the coming of Jesus to earth was meant to be the beginning of something, not the entire event. His life was an example that was meant to be followed by others—just a few at first, but others would follow their example and eventually the number of people living that way would be so great that it would just seem like the way to live. Somewhere it got flipped and people began to celebrate Jesus as the only guy who’d ever lived that way.” The angel successfully patted Mabel’s hand this time without causing further property damage.
Mabel’s forehead furrowed. “But even so, why wouldn’t you want to be reminded of that? What’s wrong with my decorations!?” Mabel’s voice had escalated in volume and she blushed after these words. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to get worked up.”
“We don’t need decorations because we don’t need to be reminded,” Jesus said gently. “Peace and goodwill are all that anyone does here. It’s not a time of year. It’s not a thing you can forget. It’s who we are. Here, the time you used to spend reminding yourself about peace and goodwill you just spend doing it.”
Mabel sat with her hands in her lap, looking around at all of her decorations. She sighed. “But I like them,” she said at last.
“We know,” Jesus said, nodding. “Mabel, you’re wearing glasses that you don’t need for your perfect eyes. And you’ve decorated your house to remind you of things that never go away. It’s time to trust us. It’s time to let go.”
She stared down at her hands. “I knew it,” Mabel murmured to herself.
“You knew what?” asked the angel.
“That it was always Christmas here. I mean, nobody calls it that, but that’s what it is. I could tell by the way everybody treats everybody else. And by the way people kept offering to help me decorate, even though they didn’t understand what I was doing. Some of the people that haven’t been here very long said they had faint memories of earth-decorations, but no one seemed to miss them. They just wanted to help me because I seemed to need help.” A tear wandered down the lines of Mabel’s cheek. “I could have gotten it right so long ago. It was supposed to be peace on earth, wasn’t it?”
“On earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus agreed. “But we don’t spend a lot of time on ‘told ya so’ around here.” He smiled. She understood.
They stayed a while longer, answering more of Mabel’s questions about heaven and bad things that had happened to good people. They set up a time to come back and help Mabel pack up her earth-decorations. As their conversation drew to a close, Mabel walked them to the door.
“Oh dear me,” Mabel said suddenly. “I just realized I never asked your names.”
“I’m Gloria,” said the angel, “and this, of course, is Jesus.”
“This is Jesus?” said Mabel incredulously. She groped for her useless glasses once again and pushed them onto her face. She squinted at Jesus for a few moments, then reached out to him. “I’ve got to tell you, Jesus—you’re not what I expected.”
“That’s the story of my life, ma’am,” Jesus conceded. “Merry Christmas.”
Hope you enjoyed it. Hope SHE enjoyed it.
Peace to you all,