written by: Christine Tapper
On Christmas Eve Rachel dropped me off in the rectory courtyard for dress rehearsal. I entered the stone chapel where Johnny Peterson stood on the altar practicing his flute. As he turned the sheet music he spotted me, “Your window looks great, Jason..” He pointed upwards where the sun’s rays refracted through stained glass enriching the blue, yellow and green hues.
The old window had been smashed by vandals weeks earlier and I’d been commissioned to design a replacement. I sat a few rows from the front contemplating the wonder of glass. Man-made, blown from sand, spun like honey into a substance that is both fragile and enduring. I focused on the dove depicted in the top corner of the window. A white bird winged against pale blue.
Music flowed from Johnny’s flute, haunting, lulling. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. I closed my eyes, let my thoughts drift and when I opened them I was sitting in darkness, on straw, in a damp corner which smelled of animal sweat. I reached out and touched the leg of a warm creature. A gentle cow that turned and nuzzled my ear.
Dim lights, shuffling sounds and voices prompted me to peer over the animal’s broad back. I seemed to be watching some kind of nativity scene. I had grown my hair and beard for the part of a shepherd in the church Nativity play but the production before me had more realism than any stage setting I’d ever witnessed. Joseph gazed in awe at the Mother and Child. Radiance emanated from them and you could almost smell Mary’s milk. All that was missing were wise men bearing gifts.
Through the barn door, a fellow I assumed to be an innkeeper entered with some tools and began erecting a makeshift screen around the family of three. While he worked I crawled across hay strewn cobbles to the door.
Outside, no streetlights greeted me, no snow or fat Santa figure, just a little town bathed in the light of a slow-moving star. Palm trees swayed and peace reigned over small adobe dwellings. I wanted to explore my immediate surroundings but knew I would stand out for my Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts did not conform to the downbeat dress code of the town. I darted from shadow to shadow towards an inn with a thatched roof. There I removed an old blanket from a railing and wrapped it around myself. The more corners I peeped around the more I became convinced I’d been transported back in time like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. I fumbled beneath the blanket and, from a pocket in my shorts, removed my mobile phone.
The electronic screen displayed a series of iridescent green digits but no matter which buttons I pressed I could not make contact with family, wife or mates. I was far removed from the trappings of the twenty-first century with its telecommunications, cars and Concordes.
A dark-haired boy in a long robe and sandals appeared at a water trough, untied a donkey, and left the animal to rest outside the stable. At that moment my phone released a loud electronic beep. The stable boy jumped, ran towards me sandaled feet kicking up dust. Dark eyes questioned the sound that would have been as unfamiliar to him as the sights and smells of this town were to me. Commonsense made me stow the tiny black piece of technology back in my shorts. How would I explain that where I’m from I could speak into the iPhone to someone oceans away? Computers, cyberspace and solar-powered gadgetry were things of the future.
He came closer, spoke to me in a fast native tongue. I shrugged and he gestured. We couldn’t understand each other but I blurted, “I’m from the future where it’s over 2000 years since the birth of our savior.” I pointed to the stable then said. “Son you would never believe the things I could tell you.”
From behind, a hand rested on my shoulder. A deep warmth seeped from that palm into my flesh. A voice spoke with sincerity. “I would believe you friend.”
I turned to see a man of about 170 cm, a slim figure shrouded in a dusky brown robe. Grey hair wisped from both sides of his hood. “You want to go home friend?” he murmured.
“Yes. Home to my wife and–” before I could finish he completed the sentence.
“Jesse, your son.”
How did he know about my son?
“Who are you?” I asked. “A prophet?”
He smiled. “Just a messenger.”
14-month-old Jesse had been born with a problem in his right hip. The specialist, reluctant to operate, told us Jesse might never walk.
I looked into the messenger’s eyes. “Can you help me get home please?”
Taking my hand in his powerful grip, he steered me back to the stable, past the makeshift screen shielding Joseph and Mary. I peeped in at the child in the straw. Fingers to pursed lips the messenger hushed me and advised me to sit in the damp corner. By this time, the cow had settled for the night. After stumbling over the bulk of her, I removed the blanket from my shoulders and sat cross-legged on it like someone about to take a magic carpet ride.
The Messenger whispered, “Close your eyes.” He touched my head. I hoped he knew what he was doing.
Although fully aware, I could not lift my eyelids for a minute. But when I did, I saw once again the dove in the stained glass window. The sun had gone down and a dull light touched the colours.
Johnny tapped me on the shoulder with the tip of his flute. “Hey, you’re really getting into character aren’t you mate.”
I frowned at him, puzzled.
He flicked a piece of straw from my collar onto my lap. Pointed at my dusty sandals. “Nice touch but you’ve overdone it with the smell. Poo, a bit too shepherdy if you ask me.”
I sniffed at a smelly, damp smudge on my sleeve.
Johnny pulled a face then laughed. Choir members beckoned him to join them at the front of the church where they began singing, Oh Come Let us Adore Him.
More members of our nativity group ambled in for the rehearsal. My shepherd costume, an old striped curtain, was in the vestry and just as I retrieved it, Rachel rushed through the door with Jesse in her arms. “Jason, Jace.” She stopped a metre short of me and stood our bright-eyed son, blond hair shining in front of her.
Jesse stretched out his right leg. Rachel bubbled. “You’ll never believe this. I wrapped him in your shepherd’s robe and…”
“What Shepherd’s robe, I’m wearing this.” I held out the striped curtain.
“Here, look,” she said. “A Courier brought it.” She showed me a grey robe that looked more authentic than any curtain.
“From Mercury Messengers.”
Rachel let Jesse go and as I reached for him out of habit she stopped me and said, “It’s okay. Watch.”
To my amazement, Jesse took two steps. “Rachel, this courier? Wasn’t thin with a brown robe and wispy grey hair by any chance?”
“Yes, he was. He touched Jesse’s side and after that, Jesse walked.”
The singing voices rose to crescendo. Limp as a melting candle, I dropped to my knees, held out my arms, and Jesse toddled into them.
- The Messenger - December 21, 2022