Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 12

     (If you wish to read Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits from the beginning, or read chapters you may have missed, click here for the table of contents.)
Chapter Twelve
The Last of the Three Spirits
     Ebenezer Christian stood in total darkness.
     The unrecognizable voice of a woman said to him, "I must prepare you for what you're about to see."
     "Is it that terrible?"
     "What you're about to see is both terrible and wonderful. Your brain is equipped to accept things you experience through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the taste buds and your sense of touch. Since you are about to experience some things that are beyond the five senses, the only way your brain will be able to accept them will be by reinterpreting them. You will see things beyond human sight and hear things beyond human hearing."
     Ebenezer Christian sensed that the owner of the voice had waved her arm in a wide sweep because, when he could see, he noticed the final flourish of the arm. The woman who stood before him resembled she who had stood on the street: the one to whom he had given twenty-dollars (or should that be $320?), when he'd intended to give her only a quarter.
     With another wave of her arm, she gestured to his left. "Look!" she instructed.
     The place they stood was obviously a shepherd's field. Across the rolling, grassy field, close to a hundred sheep had settled down for the night. About ten to fifteen feet from Ebenezer Christian, three shepherds warmed themselves before a fire. One, who spoke to the other two, was standing; the others sat listening. Somewhere off to the right, another shepherd was walking toward them.
     Ebenezer Christian couldn't understand their language, let alone tell what they were saying. It was clear, though, that the one standing was telling a joke that either was bawdy or which would have been considered offensive by the person who was the butt of the joke. The others laughed the laugh of people who inwardly know the wrongness of their humor. Each vied with the others to celebrate his own crudity.
     "These aren't the shepherds of the Christmas story, are they?" said Ebenezer Christian with incredulity.
     "Yes, they are," came the reply. "The real-life shepherds of Biblical times were not the stuff of pastoral poems and legends that were written during the Middle Ages, or of such modern children’s stories as Heidi. In those days, shepherds were seen as crude men and boys who—if given the chance—would steal. Some sank even lower than this."
     "But David was a shepherd. Doesn't that count for something?"
     "It counts only insofar as the lesson that we shouldn't stereotype groups of people. It also counts insofar as God is continuously showing us that He looks upon the heart and not upon outward appearances or social status. He can turn a pauper into a king or send a king away empty handed. He can take each person who accepts Him and raise him above whatever shortcomings or disadvantages he may have.
     "Yes," the spirit repeated, "these crass wretches are the shepherds in the story of the first Christmas. The pasture is owned by the Temple in Jerusalem; and the sheep are the unblemished sheep sold to out-of-town visitors for the purpose of sacrifices in the Temple. Outwardly, it's considered a holy calling, but it has become a profitable business to the family of the high priest. The shepherds can't help but know this. How can anyone blame the shepherds for their lack of piety, when the high priests themselves have profaned this sacred field?"
     A soundless explosion of light burst across the entire countryside. Ebenezer Christian, the shade, and the shepherds suddenly stopped speaking.
     A second later, one of the shepherds—terrified—fell to his knees, pointed toward the sky, and screamed something. The shepherds and Ebenezer Christian reflexively looked in the direction the first shepherd had pointed.
     In a brightness many times as dazzling as the light that illuminated the countryside, a ghostly silhouette of light was walking downward from a cloud. Ebenezer Christian and the shepherds fell on their faces and cringed. All hid their faces, even while trying to see the thing that was coming toward them. The spirit that had been speaking to Ebenezer Christian was rendered invisible by the light.
     What they all felt, strictly speaking, was not fear because fear has a distinct object. What they felt was a combination of dread and awe: dread of something completely beyond their comprehension, and awe at its power and apparent authority.
     When the blazing visitor reached a spot about twenty feet above and in front of the terrified shepherds and Ebenezer Christian, it spoke to them:
     "Don't be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!"
     The awe-struck men raised themselves up a bit, daring to look without completely uncovering their eyes. They now were able to make out some of the details of the angel's face and body. Though they felt a little assured by the words the angel spoke, the angel was terrible to behold. Throughout the angel's message, they remained on their knees.
     The angel continued, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be a sign to you: You will find the babe wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."
     In the next instant, the sky became filled with thousands of angelic beings praising God. Over and over, in unison and individually, Ebenezer Christian heard them shout such things as, "Glory to God in the highest, and to Earth peace, goodwill toward all men!"
     Not half content with shouting and singing, the angelic beings began to dance and wave their arms. Ebenezer Christian stood up and stared at them, scarcely believing his eyes. The spirit, now appearing beside him, remarked, "In thousands of years, this is the happiest day they've ever known."
     Some of the angels—then several of them—then many of them darted across the sky as erratically as swallows and as rapidly as meteors. Here and there, small groups of angels playfully chased and circled each other like butterflies. Their songs and shouts were joined by joyous laughter and giddy whoops and other noises. Their sounds and movements, though synchronized, became increasingly rapid and increasingly complex.
     This display across the heavens soon reached a point that it was beyond human comprehension. Ebenezer Christian realized that he was seeing what no human eye could see: an expression of pure joy splashed from horizon to horizon.
     Suddenly the whole scene exploded upon Ebenezer Christian, bathing him with such divine love, filling him with such joy, that tears burst from his eyes. In that same instant, all, once again, was quiet and dark.
     [In every Christmas presentation Ebenezer Christian had ever seen, the angels' annunciation to the shepherds was treated almost perfunctorily, as if those in charge of the program wanted to get past that part of the story as soon as possible. He knew of no Christian songs dealing specifically with the scene he had just witnessed. For future Christmas programs, though, Ebenezer Christian recommended that the choir of angels sing the song "Shine, Jesus, Shine!"]
     The shepherds struggled to their feet and spoke excitedly to one another. Those crass souls with unclean lips had just witnessed something that changed their lives forever. They were radiant!
     Though Ebenezer Christian could not understand what they were saying, it was clear that they were eager to leave for Bethlehem that very minute. Leaving their sheep behind them, they rushed southward to find the Baby Who already had changed their lives and Who soon would change the world.
     "Let's go ahead of them," the spirit said to Ebenezer Christian. With those words, she waved her arm.

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