Christmas Eve. An Angel Story.
December 30, 2001
This story comes from Kingslake’s book Angel Stories.
Mary had been to the village school and could read almost any-thing.
But she had only one book of her own: a Bible given to
her by her father at her christening. She read this Bible at all hours of
the day, and became so absorbed in it that she scarcely knew whether
she was living in modern England or ancient Palestine.
Her father did not trouble her very much. He was a good-natured
man, and cared little how she occupied her time, provided-ed
there was a meal ready for him when he returned from the
At a neighboring farm there lived a very old man called Gaffer
Hawkins. Nobody knew how old Gaffer was. He could remember
everything that had happened in the village since before there
were any roads. One Christmas Eve, Mary called in at the farm to
buy some eggs and milk. She got talking to Gaffer Hawkins, who
sat huddled up in a rocking chair before the fire.
“Do you remember the first Christmas, Gaffer, when the Lord
Jesus came into the world?” she asked. “I mean, did folk know
about it over here in England? You wouldn’t have seen the star,
would you, all that way off? Fancy, if the Lord Jesus had been
born here in Elmwood, instead of in Bethlehem of Judah!”
Gaffer rocked in silence for a few moments. “I don’t exactly
remember what happened, my dear,” he began, in his cracked
voice; “only what the Parson reads in church. But folks do say that
the Virgin Mother and Joseph, them the Good Book tells of—you
know?” (Mary nodded excitedly)—“folks say that every year, on
Christmas Eve, they go a-wandering up and down the world seeking
shelter, because there wasn’t no room for them at the inn.”
Mary’s dreamy eyes flashed brightly. Then her face fell. “The
Virgin Mary and Joseph, you say? Isn’t Jesus himself with them?”
“Other folks do say it ain’t the parents at all, but the Blessed
Child himself that goes around seeking shelter. I don’t rightly
know. I can’t recollect that he ever came to Elmwood. Stands to
reason, don’t it? He’s got a lot of big towns to visit before he comes
to a little village like this. But he’ll come one day, don’t doubt.”
She was all excitement again. “Do you think he might come
tonight? It’s Christmas Eve, you know. Suppose he does?”
“He might. You never know.”
Mary hurried home through the snow, her mind on fire with
hope and fear. What if he came to see her? She would not fail him.
She would be ready. Why, perhaps he had called at the cottage
while she was out? No, there were no fresh footprints.
She pushed open the door. How filthy everything looked! A
dirty tablecloth, with pots and needlework and rubbish lying all over it; thick dust on the photographs and ornaments; the couch
tilted up on a broken leg; crumbs and mud on the carpet. What
would the Holy Child think when he came in?
She began to put things straight. She cleared the table, put on
a clean tablecloth, swept the floor, dusted the mantel, propped up
the couch on a box, and washed the crocks left over from several
days’ meals. Then, when everything was neat and tidy, she began
to prepare supper. She would cook enough for three. She wasn’t a
good cook, but she could make a tasty hot-pot. And they would
have pudding too. Christmas Pudding! She got out an old cookery
book, and set about the experiment with enthusiasm.
While the meal was cooking, she put on her overcoat and
gathered some holly and ivy to hang above the pictures. It was get-ting
dark, so she lit candles round the room. Why not a Christmas
tree? She went out again, and broke a bough off a fir tree in
the garden. This she stood upright in a bedroom jug, supporting
it with stones. She decorated it with oranges by threading cotton
through the skins and tying them to the branches. Then she
bound a candle to the top of the tree and lit it. She clapped her
hands with delight! When would he come?
She was just arranging the chairs by the fire when there was a
step on the path. Her heart thumped loudly and her face went
red. But it was only her father.
He blinked in at the door with astonishment. “Why, Mary!”
he cried, and his eyes filled with tears. He took her in his arms and
kissed her—a thing he hardly ever did. “I thought you had forgotten
that it’s Christmas Eve,” he said.
“I hadn’t forgotten. Look, here’s a chicken for tomorrow’s dinner.
But how clean everything looks!”
He made a tour of inspection. “You’ve mended the couch
too.” He sat on it and jogged up and down, smiling. Then an idea
struck him. “I’ll pop over to the store,” he said, “and get som-thing
for the Christmas tree. I shan’t be long.”
“Father,” whispered Mary, “do you know why I’ve done all
this? Gaffer Hawkins says the . . . the Christ Child himself may
come to Elmwood tonight, and I wanted to be ready for him.”
Father shook his head. “I’ve heard that story before, but it’s
only an old tale.... There, there! Don’t look so disappointed!
We’ll pretend he is here.” He looked embarrassed. Then he added
hastily, “I’ll get those things,” and made for the door.
Mary sat and thought. What if it were only an old tale? She
didn’t mind now. She had never seen her father look so happy in
her life before. What a lazy girl she had been! She felt quite
ashamed of herself. Well, she would keep the house as nice as this
always. Yes; she would scrub and clean it every day, so that when
her father came in from the fields he would laugh and kiss her as
he had done that night.
He would be back soon. She opened her Bible and began to
read. Here was the place. She held the Book close to the candle.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly
host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Thank you, O Holy Christ Child, for visiting us this Christmas
with the wonders of your love. May we always have ears to hear
the angel chorus singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace toward all people of good will.” Amen.
Rev. Brian Kingslake