A Christmas Story
And suddenly there were with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing. . . .
This is the story of the little angel who refused to sing on the night when Christ was born. It began in Heaven where the angels of the Heavenly choir were rehearsing for the Earth’s first Christmas carol service. They had practiced for eons, for as you know there is no night there, and a thousand years are as but a day. The Heavenly concert had been polished to the last minutia of perfection, and was about ready to be released into time so that mortal ears could hear its beauteous haunting refrain all through the ages of man. All was in a state of preparation in Heaven; Earth was about to receive her savior-king. All was ready – save one thing –
There was in the Heavenly chorus a tiny angel with the sweetest voice ever heard throughout the spheres. It was high as the mountain air, yet soft as the summer dew upon the flowers. It was strong as a mother’s love and as true as a homing pigeon. The fluted melody of his song stilled the melody of the birds, causing them to wonder and delay their flight that they might hear more. The blossoms all beamed when this little angel sang, the moon lifted her haughty head to hear, and the stars left their courses to cluster ‘round his pathway.
But the tiniest angel in the Heavenly choir was the problem child of Heaven. He had barely missed being an imp, but his enchanting voice and his engaging personality caused the saints who made up the committee on examinations to lift their eyebrows and admit him, for he answered every question with a song.
His love of mischief, however, had thrown Heaven into an uproar upon more than one occasion, and his frankness and independence of thought had been a source of frequent embarrassment to the saints. He was a cosmopolitan angel as may be inferred from his name: Mulforaj (Mulforage), O’Brien, Antonio, Chiang, Koussowitsky, McTavish, Stackpole, Goldberg, Smith.
Now being a cosmopolitan angel, Mulforage Smith had a mind of his own. While the saints in glory were busy praising God around the great white throne, he was frequently to be found stretched out under the tumtum trees lost in pensive thought. While the four and twenty elders were busy burnishing their gleaming crowns, Mulforage Smith was likely to be found engaged in earnest conversation with Gabriel, the choirmaster, and the Father’s chief messenger. When the rest of the heavenly family agreed to accept a certain decision or when personally asked to do something, the tiniest angel in Heaven invariably asked, “Why?” (Gabriel patiently explained that this was because his name had McTavish in it!) And there were certain saints in the Ladies Circle of Light who had intimated that they had heard it said that Mulforage was a secret admirer of the dread Lucifer, whom the Father had dismissed from Heaven many light years before! It must be admitted that Mulforage had been known to appear at one concert of the heavenly choir with a black Saturnic circle around his ethereal eye. But this story that he was a “fellow-traveler” of Lucifer seemed utterly without foundation, because while Mulforage Smith was a mischievous angel, a questioning angel, an independent angel, there was no trace of wickedness in him.
The last rehearsal of the heavenly chorus was about over. Gabriel tapped upon his trumpet for order. He was about to call for a repetition of the great Amen, when Mulforage Smith, who had been behaving like a perfect lamb for centuries, suddenly and calmly announced,
“I am sorry, Master Gabriel, but I cannot do it.”
“Cannot do what? Sing the Amen? Nonsense!”
“No, Master Gabriel. I simply cannot sing at all in the concert tomorrow night. I positively refuse to sing!”
Gabriel put down his trumpet and stared in stupefaction. A quick gasp went up from all over the alabaster rehearsal room, followed by excited buzzing. Finally Gabriel spoke, as though he were not sure his ethereal ears had heard correctly.
“You. . . refuse. . . to sing? But why? Don’t you feel well?” (Gabriel should have known better than to ask this question, because there is no pain nor suffering in Heaven. Yet he couldn’t think of anything else and said the first thing that came into his mind.)
“Of course not, Master Gabriel. The trouble is I have been doing a great deal of thinking about this concern, and I have conscientious objections to participating in it.”
“Conscientious objections! Well, of all your peculiar notions this is the strangest yet. Come now, is this another of your jokes? By this time Heaven has had ample cause to be aware that your name is Mulforage O’BRIEN Smith; but this is a poor time for your fine Irish wit to display itself. Explain yourself, sir.”
“No, Master Gabriel, I am not joking. I confess I have never been more serious. I am objecting to the sentiment of the song we are supposed to sing tomorrow night. ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men,’ indeed! The trouble with a lot of you saints is you do not keep up with things. Look down there at that place called Earth! Look at it! Look what a mess it’s in! ‘Peace on Earth’ – forsooth. Have any of you been over to Celestial Square recently to read the planetary bulletins as recorded by the moving finger? I thought not. Through bloody fighting Egypt and Spain have been annexed to the Roman Empire; the bearded Drusus and his brutal brother, Tiberius, have conquered all the wild peoples of the Rhine and the Elbe – which will afterwards come to be known as Germany and produce one of the most war-like races in history. Look down there at your precious Jerusalem. Before three-quarters of this very century has passed, Titus will come along, tear that city apart and destroy its temple. Look at the Middle East – the Kenva Dynasty is fighting for its life against the Andhra Dynasty which will eventually overthrow it. And what’s happening in the Far East? That little country of Japan has just passed an edict stressing the importance of shipbuilding owing to the difficulty of land transport. The beginning of an empire, and you know what that means. ‘Peace’? All you angels are singing ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. There never was, and there never will be!”
“Have you quite finished with your historical dissertation, Master Smith? I am sure this is all very interesting, but I’m afraid it is a little late to think of these matters. Even now Mary and Joseph are winding up the hills toward Bethlehem.”
Gabriel was a very patient angel, but this time he was annoyed. Part of his annoyance was because he had no very clear explanation to the matter under discussion. His lips drew firmly together.
“Either you sing, Master Smith – or we will excuse you!”
Sadly the little angel who refused to sing sighed a deep sigh. Then, because his name was also Goldberg, he raised his hands in a characteristic and expressive gesture of despair, as though to say, “What’s the use of trying to explain how I feel about the song?” and unhappily he left the rehearsal room.
Gabriel soon had the chorus singing again; its melodies ringing throughout the spheres. For after all, gifted as the little angel was, the heavenly chorus was not dependent on any one voice – and the angels sang with the passion of those who love to sing, and the beauty of those who can. Mulforage, downcast heart and all, thrilled as he listened, shuffling along the path to the tumtum forest – hands in the pockets of his robe and scuffing his sandals kicking at the loose stones as he went.
The chorus sang as never before. Every angel striving to make up for the little angel’s strange behavior. But Heaven had witnessed its first walkout in all eternity.
And it came to pass, as the city of David, the little town of Bethlehem lay wrapped in deep and dreamless slumber, that “angels from the realms of glory” were winging “their flight o’er all the Earth.” Shepherds, in the fields abiding, were watching o’er their flocks by night –
“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.”
“And Gabriel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
“’For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, goodwill toward men.’”
And this is the way in which
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the Earth, to touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the Earth, goodwill to men, from Heaven’s all-gracious king.”
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
“Hark,” cried the shepherds, no longer fearful,
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
And the angels sang more beautifully than they had ever sung before. The wondering world turned over in its slumber and thought that it must have died – so moving was the song. And God heard the song, and was well pleased. But in Heaven there was one little angel who had refused to sing. The one with the sweetest voice of them all.
And it came to pass that after the angels were gone away from the shepherds into Heaven; and God walked in the tumtum garden in the cool of the heavenly day. . . . Suddenly, Mulforage, the tiniest angel of them all, felt the presence of God – as he lay stretched out on his flowery bower, lost in pensive thought. He stood up respectfully, with his curly little head bowed in the presence of the Lord of all the universe.
And the Lord said unto him: “What are you doing here, Mulforage? The heavenly chorus sang more beautifully than ever before. Yet I missed one voice in all the rest. Yours, my child. Why are you here?”
“My Father, I could not sing. How can I cry, ‘Peace, peace on Earth,’ when there is no peace? To do so, seemed to me, but to proclaim a lie.”
“Who are you, Mulforage, to question the everlasting word of God? Stubborn little one – the song does not say that peace is upon the Earth. The song proclaims that because of him who is born this day, that one day peace shall be upon the Earth, and that one day in the fullness of time, goodwill shall reign upon ALL men. I, the Lord, have spoken it!”
The righteous glory of God was more dazzling than the brightness of ten million noonday suns; and Mulforage fell upon his face before that light.
“Forgive me, my Father, I have been wrong to question your law.”
“Behold, you are forgiven. Know you who is born in the city of David this day? It is my son, Mulforage; the Prince of Heaven and of Peace; my only begotten son – in whom I am well pleased. Look now through the obscuring clouds of history. What do you see?”
“I see a cross. And on that cross the Prince of Glory shall die. But only for a moment. For from the earthly bonds of death he shall rise again – with healing for the nations in his wings. He shall live eternally and shall be born again and again in the hearts of men throughout all time. A cross – the emblem of human tragedy and sacrifice, the emblem of suffering and shame – but he shall feel no shame. Lifted up he will draw all men unto him as the sun draws the rain. Kings shall come to the brightness of his rising; till that day when every knee shall bow and every voice shall own him Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In that day his kingdom will be finally established in the hearts of men and war shall be no more.”
And it came to pass that after the Lord had bone away from him that Mulforage decided to go to Bethlehem to worship the Christ child. He hailed a cruising star and skyrocketed to Earth. Magi in the distant East saw the star and began their toilsome journey till, later, they, too, came to the place where the young child was.
Mulforage told the star-driver to shut off his meteor and wait for him, then he stole cautiously into the stable. The ox and the ass saw him and stood still. Joseph was there, but he saw him not, nor Mary. But the infant stirred upon his mother’s breast and listened.
“I will sing you my sweetest song, baby Jesus. Hearken well. For ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ I bring to you the gift of the singing heart. No matter how great your discouragements, your heart shall never know recoil. For you will know men at their worst, and yet see in them their best possibilities. Guard well, baby Jesus, this gift of the singing heart. For by its power, you can transform despair into hope and turn tragedy into glory.”
And while Mulforage was singing, the grass forgot to grow; the sun tarried in his course; the birds dared not twitter. For though the world heard it not, the creatures of God all heard it. And from Heaven there resounded an answering shout: “Glory to God in the highest, and glory be to his son on Earth, the Prince of Peace!”
The babe sighed upon his mother’s breast and turned to sleep. The eternal “word” of God had become flesh, and dwelt among men.