I wrote this story for the intergenerational Christmas Eve Service at Living Table United Church of Christ. Permission is given for use in worship services. You must include the following copyright statement: “Angels Bring Good News” © Rachael Keefe https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com For any other use, contact me.
Angels Bring Good News
A Story for Christmas Eve
(Before beginning, invite the congregation to respond as follows:
“Angel” or “Angels” say “OOOOOOO”
“Good News” say “AAHHHHH”
“Awesome” say “YES!”)
Long, long ago in a far-off place Alex had their twelfth birthday. Turning twelve meant that Alex would be matched with an older angel. Alex was a young angel who needed to learn how to do angel things. They hoped they would be matched with one of the older angels who got to all the important stuff. Well, being a messenger from God was always important. But, you know, some angels got to do the special things, the kind of things that changed everything for humans.
Alex got their wish. Alex was matched with Gabriel. Gabriel was important even among angels. Gabriel was the one God called to deliver all the really special messages. Alex was so excited they just couldn’t stay still. Alex spread their wings and zoomed all over the place. Gabriel was the best angel to learn from. This was going to be great!
The next day Alex went to Gabriel’s office. Gabriel wasn’t there, but there was a note on the desk with a few assignments for the near future. Alex was too curious to wait. Maybe it was something they could do and Gabriel could keep doing other things. Alex read the memo addressed to Gabriel:
Go to the priest, Zechariah, and tell him that he and his wife were going to have a baby.
When Zechariah doesn’t believe you, take his voice away until the baby is born.
“That’s just mean,” thought Alex. “Who would believe that angel would come to tell them that they are having a baby, even after it is too late to have a baby?” Alex decided to go visit Zechariah and make it easier on him.
Zechariah was hanging up his priestly robes when Alex found him. “Um, hi…” said Alex with uncertainty. Startled, Zechariah turned around.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Alex. I am an angel.” Said Alex with a little more confidence.
“Right.” Said Zechariah with amusement. “Aren’t I supposed to be afraid?”
“I guess,” answered Alex. “I’m in training. So maybe not…”
“Okay. So what do you have to tell me?” Zechariah smiled at Alex. The priest was a kind person.
“Well, now that I’m here, I don’t know if I should tell you at all. Maybe I should just go.” Alex was nervous now.
“You’re here. You might as well tell me.” Zechariah was curious now.
“Oh, I should have waited for Gabriel,” Alex mutters to themselves, then says to Zechariah all in a rush, “You’re not going to believe Gabriel and he’s going to take your voice away and give you a baby.”
“What? You can’t be right. Angels bring good news, child. What you are telling me is not good news. I need my voice more than I need a baby.” Are you sure you have the message right?”
“No. Forget it. I’ll go. Gabriel will come. Goodbye!” said Alex quickly before disappearing.
Alex returned to Gabriel’s office to see Gabriel standing there looking a little bit angry. “Where have you been?” Gabriel demanded.
“I… I… I…” stammered Alex.
“Yes? I am waiting.” Gabriel was not happy.
While looking at the floor, Alex mumbled, “I went to Zechariah, like the memo said, but I messed it up.”
“Let me guess. Zechariah wasn’t afraid and you didn’t give him any good news, did you?”
Alex nodded and Gabriel said, “You go home. Come back tomorrow. I will go fix this.” And Gabriel vanished.
The next few days passed. Alex went to Gabriel’s office each day, but there were no more assignments. Instead, Alex had to read a book that was all about how to be a good angel. It said things like, “Angels are scary at first sight” and “Angels always bring good news.” Alex already knew these things. The book was very boring.
A week or so after the Zechariah incident, Alex once more found Gabriel’s office empty. There was another memo. This one read, “Keep trying to find a woman who will agree to having a holy baby. Try Mary who is betrothed to Joseph in Galilee.
Alex got excited. This was possibly, something that they couldn’t mess up. Why wouldn’t someone want to have a holy baby? Without thinking any more about it, Alex went to Mary.
Mary was sweeping her porch steps when Alex arrived. Mary jumped a little and said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Alex. I’m an angel. Did I scare you?”
“You startled me, but no I’m not scared. You look like a nice angel.”
Alex was disappointed that they weren’t scary at first sight. Alex took a breath and said, “I’m hear to bring you good news.”
“Okay,” said Mary, not so sure she wanted to hear it.
“Gabriel is looking for someone who will have a holy baby. And you’re the next one to be asked. You want a baby, right? I mean, who wouldn’t? Especially a holy baby. I mean, you want to right?” Alex was babbling again.
“No!” Mary said quite shocked. “I am not ready to have a baby, holy or not. This is not good news at all. You’re not a very good angel. You should go.”
Alex hesitated. Then shook their head and mumbled, “Sorry” before disappearing.
Gabriel was waiting for Alex this time. “What did you do? Were you terrifying at first sight? Did you bring good news? Did you get Mary to agree?”
Alex stared at the floor and whispered, “No… I…”
Gabriel looked at Alex. “You had better keep reading that book while I go fix this. We need Mary to say yes. There are no more likely options.” Gabriel disappeared.
Alex did as they were told. They read the book again and again. But the book didn’t tell how to be terrifying or how to make the news good. It just said that angels did these things. Alex wasn’t very good at being an angel. Maybe it would get better?
A few more weeks go by with nothing exciting to do. Alex read the book and Gabriel asked Alex a lot of questions about what was in the book. Alex grew bored again. Then it happened. There was another day when Gabriel was out and there was a memo on the desk. This memo read:
Go to Joseph in Galilee and tell him not to divorce Mary. Tell him that God chose him to to raise Mary’s child. Get him to understand that the child is God’s and his name will be Jesus. Jesus will be Emanuel, God-with-us. It’s important that Joseph understand this.
“A dream,” Alex thought, “I can do that.” And off to Joseph’s dream Alex went.
It was a nice dream Joseph was having. The sun was out and he was fishing in the river, relaxing. “Hi, Joseph,” said Alex. “Mind if I fish with you.” Joseph nodded and invited Alex to sit nearby.
“I have news for you,” said Alex, cautiously. “You have to stay with Mary. She is going to have God’s baby and God needs you to help take care of him. And call him Jesus… or Emanuel… I am not sure which.”
Joseph just stared at Alex. “Uhoh,” said Alex. “I’ve done it again…”
“Am I dreaming?” asked Joseph.
“Yes, you are,” replied Alex. “You keep dreaming; I’m going to go.”
“But you said you had good news. I didn’t hear any good news from you!” Joseph wasn’t happy.
“I’ve got to go!” said Alex before vanishing from Joseph’s dream.
When Alex returned to Gabriel’s office, Gabriel waited with expectation. Alex just shook their head.
Gabriel smiled. “No fear? No good news? You didn’t quite deliver this time, either. Right?”
Gabriel still smiled. “Don’t worry kid. You’ll get it. You have to believe that you are truly a messenger from God Most High. You have to believe that you have good news to deliver. You have to believe that being in your presence is always as frightening to humans as being in the presence of God. Have a little confidence. You can do this. In the meantime…”
Alex interrupted, “Yeah, I know, keep reading…” At this Gabriel disappeared to go fix Joseph’s dream.
Again, weeks passed. Nothing special happened, but things with Alex started to change. Alex’s wings grew bigger. Alex’s halo shined brighter. And most impressively, if Alex really concentrated, they could glow with a fierce, brilliant light. Maybe Alex would make a good angel after all.
One morning Alex flew into Gabriel’s office to find Gabriel holding a memo. “This is it, kid. This is your big break. You can’t mess this up. You’re going to go first and then back up will come in. There’s no way you mess this up.”
Alex looked at Gabriel amazed. “You want me to go in your place?”
Gabriel nodded. “It’s time. You just have to remember a few things.”
Alex responded, “What if I can’t do it?”
“You can. Just believe in yourself.” Said Gabriel.
Alex read the memo:
Go to the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem at night. Be AWESOME. After they stop being afraid, tell them the good news. Tell them where to find the Child. Make sure they get it and run to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby. Wait for the heavenly host, the great number of angels to join in singing.
Alex wanted to go, but wasn’t sure that they should. This was a really important job and they weren’t very good at being awesome or bringing good news. “I can’t do this,” they said to Gabriel.
“Yes, you can,” said Gabriel. You just have to remember the basics. You know them, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Alex. “First I shine with brilliant, fierce light so the humans are filled with terrifying awe.” Gabriel nodded. “Second, I bring good news. Angels always bring good news.”
“What else?” asked Gabriel.
Alex shook their head.
“Believe in yourself.” And the next thing Alex knew was that they were in the night sky, with an enormous star shining over a stable in Bethlehem.
Alex began to look for the shepherds in the fields all the while saying over and over again, “Be awesome. Bring good news. Be awesome. Bring good news. Be awesome. Bring good news.” Just as Alex spotted the shepherd in the fields, they heard a voice (that sounded a lot like Gabriel) saying, “You are messenger of God Most High. Believe yourself.”
Then Alex appeared to the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem and concentrated on shining with the fiercest fierce brilliance ever. When Alex saw that all the shepherds were afraid, they said, “Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy to all the earth!” The shepherds actually listened to Alex and Alex almost laughed out loud. Instead, they continued, “A child is born this day in the city of David, a Savior. You will find him lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the sky filled with other angels who sang out in joy, “Glory to God in the highest heaven! Peace to all on earth! Alex went right up behind the shepherds and told them to go to Bethlehem to see this amazing child.
Then it was over. Alex was back in Gabriel’s office.
“Congratulations! You’ve done it! You are now an official angel. You’ll get your own assignments from here on out.
Alex was shocked. “Really? Why? How?”
Gabriel laughed and said, “You’ve learned the most important lessons: You’re awesome! And…
Alex joined with Gabriel, “Angels bring good news!”
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO ATTEND THE 5:00 PM SERVICE AT LIVING TABLE, THIS IS THE STORY I’LL BE READING. IF YOU WANT TO SHARE THE JOY OF HEARING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH THE KIDS, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO CONTINUE READING.
Sally the Super Star
This story was written for use with small percussion instruments to be used as follows:
When the word “star” is said, bells jingle; “light” shakers shake; “brighter” clackers clack; “great” drums drum; and “super” thunder-stick thunders. And when “angel” is read, everyone is invited to say “oooo” and when “God” is read, everyone says “ahhhhh”
A very long time ago, in a far off place, a star was born. She was filled with a bright, glittering light. Her name was Sally. When God saw how simple and pretty she was, God gave her a special place in the night time sky. As Sally grew older, she didn’t think her place was so special.
“I want to shine brighter! I want to do something great! I want to be a super star!” Sally would say to anyone who asked and many who did not. She was not content with her place in the night sky. She was one star among many above a city filled with people who almost never looked up.
Sally thought her brother, Stanley, had the best job. He had a spot in the Big Dipper. You know that one star that’s sometimes hard to find, but you just know it’s there. Stanley was proud of his place in the constellation even if he wasn’t as bright as some of the other stars.
As the years went by, Sally was filled with longing. Sometimes her light wasn’t as bright as it could have been because she felt sad because she was an ordinary star, not a super star.
One day an angel of God was passing by and noticed Sally’s dim light. “Hey, what’s wrong with you little star?” the angel asked Sally.
Sally answered with a very sad voice, “I want to shine brighter. I want to do something great. I want to be a super star. And I’m not. I’m just a regular old star, hanging over a city full of people who never look up to see me.” All her old enthusiasm was gone. Sally had become a sad little star.
“Cheer up, little star! Pretty soon you will have a job to do,” said the joyful angel.
“How do you know?” said grumpy Sally, not really believing the angel knew what he was talking about.
“I am the angel Gabriel,” he said with pride, “and I have just come from a special mission God gave just to me.”
“Yeah? So what?” Sally wasn’t having any of Gabriel’s joy. “I’m Sally, just a dull old star. God put me right in this place. I don’t think a mission from God is all that special.”
“Oh, but it is! Just you wait and see. In about nine months you are going to be one busy little star. You really are! You’ll be brighter! You’ll be great! You’ll be super!” Gabriel sounded like he knew what he was talking about.
“How do you know?” asked Sally, her curiosity winning out over her grumpiness.
“Well, I said I was returning from a special mission that God gave me.” Gabriel looked at Sally, and Sally nodded as Gabriel continued, “I just got a girl named Mary to agree to bring God’s child into the world.” Gabriel said this as though he thought Sally would understand. She did not.
“What has this got to do with me?” Sally asked, a little irritated.
“Surely, you’ve heard about this child.” Sally shook her head. She didn’t pay much attention to the humans who never took time to look up and see her hanging out, lighting up the night sky. “Unbelievable!” Gabriel was amazed that Sally didn’t know what was going on right under her shiny little nose.
“This child has been talked about, promised even, for generations. He’ll be known as Emanuel because he’ll actually be ‘God with us,’ but his name will be Jesus which means ‘God is salvation’.”
“I still don’t know what that has to do with me!” Sally practically shouted. If she had feet she would have stomped them in frustration.
“Oh, Sally,” Gabriel said with a smile. “Sally, you were made for this. God put you in the sky for this. You have always said that you want to shine brighter, do something great, and be a super star. This will be your chance. So you better start gathering up all your light because in a few months you are really going to need it.”
Sally just stared at Gabriel. She still did not understand.
“Sally, you sweet little star. Don’t you see? People are going to need to be able to find this child. He’s going to be born in the city right below you. You do know that you shine right above Bethlehem, a city with quite a history, don’t you?” Gabriel watched and waited for Sally to grasp what he was trying to tell her.
Sally started to shine a little brighter. She was going to do something great. She was going to get her chance to be a super star. “Are you telling me that I’m going to be the one who leads the way to this baby that the world has been waiting for?”
“Yes, Sally, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. In a few months Mary and Joseph will travel to Bethlehem for the census. They’ll get there just in time for Jesus to be born. And then you will light up the sky so others can come and visit this child who will be light for the world.” Gabriel was pleased to see that Sally finally understood. Her job was going to be way more important than Stanely’s spot in the Big Dipper!
Over the next nine months, Sally gathered up all her light and concentrated on glowing brighter and brighter as the months went by. As her light grew brighter, she grew larger. By the time Jesus was born, Sally was the brightest and biggest star in the sky. And she stayed that way for a very long time.
On the night Jesus was born, Sally watched as a whole bunch of angels startled shepherds who were caring for their sheep through the night. The angels told the shepherds to go and see the baby Jesus who was with his parents right below where Sally lit up the sky. Sally was thrilled when all the shepherds looked up and saw her shining so brightly. They followed her light to the very spot where Jesus lay in a manger.
All through that night and for many nights, people came to visit Jesus and leave him gifts. People came from far off, following Sally’s light. A group of magi (really smart and wise people) came and brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And Sally lit the way for them.
After a time, Sally noticed that she wasn’t shining quite as bright and she wasn’t quite as big as she had been when Jesus was born. That was okay with Sally. She played her part. She really did shine brighter, she did something great, and for a little while she was a super star.
Somehow, that didn’t seem so important anymore. Sally realized that Jesus would outshine her. The light that baby would bring to the world was far more powerful than her starlight. Jesus would show the world how great God’s love really is.
“That’s okay,” Sally thought to herself. “As long as people remember why I lit up the sky, that’s what’s important. As long as they remember that Jesus is the Light the world really needs and they share that Light with each other, that’s all that matters.”
The Angel Gabriel happened to be nearby and overheard Sally. He said with pride, “Sally, my little star, you really are a super star! Maybe those little people down there will take a cue from you and do what they need to do to show the way to God’s Light and Love because the world needs more superstars!”
Sally laughed and said, “Oh, there’s lots of Light in the world. People just have to want to shine brighter, do something great, and be a superstar to light up their little places in the world.”
Sally and Gabriel smiled at each other and started searching through the nights for all those who will shine brighter, do something great, and be a superstar as they light up the world with God’s love.
RCL – Year A – Christmas Day – December 25, 2016
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
When I was in fourth or fifth grade I read every myth I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter what culture they came from, Native American, Celtic, Greek, Roman, Chinese, I read all that I could find. I loved these stories for the imaginative way they explained how some things came to be. Even though I didn’t understand it then, I was drawn to the Truth in them that often comes through great stories.
Of course, it was years later when I came to understand many scriptural stories in the same way. It’s the Truth that gets me every time. This week’s lectionary contains a section of the creation story. It’s a story that is beautiful and Truthful. However, it has been a source of pain for some. I don’t think it was meant to be since it is an ancient story and could only speak to what was known at the time it came to life. So I’ve take quite a bit of liberty and written a version of this story that includes more of what we know now. You may or may not find it helpful…
In the days before time began to flow, there existed the One-Who-is-Many. The One-Who-is-Many was surrounded by sacred silence and was content for it to be so. Until one day when the One-Who-is-Many imagined a world filled with life and breath and hope.
Days were not yet days, but a span of time stretched and shaped in many ways and directions, when out of sacred silence the One-Who-is-Many pulled a solid sphere of matter. This matter came together because the imagination of the One-Who-is-Many willed it to be. There were periods of light and dark at the end of this first eternal day. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.
So on the second eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many, separated the sphere with all its gases and waters from the sky around it. On this sphere there was now above and below as well as light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.
On the third eternal day, which may have been longer than other eternal days, the One-Who-is-Many separated land from the seas. Seeing the barren places, the One-Who-is-Many, touched them with sacred silence and brought forth plants and vegetation of all kinds. All kinds of growing things that would change and lead to other kinds of green and growing things as the eternal days went on and on. Now the sphere had plants, land, and seas as well as ground below and sky above and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.
On the fourth eternal day, which also stretched on and on, the One-Who-is-Many set great lights in the sky. The sun would rule the day and the moon and stars would rule the night. The One-Who-is-Many enjoyed shining lights into the nights and bringing warmth to the days. The sphere turned slowly and seasons came into being. Now there were sun, moon, and stars, growing things, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.
On the fifth eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many rejoiced to set living beings free in the water and in the air. Some were placed so deep in the waters that they have yet to be seen and some have long been forgotten. But on the fifth eternal day, bird song filled the air and whale song filled the seas. These creatures brought forth others and others as the sphere turned slowly day after day. Creatures of the air and creatures of the sea filled the sphere and enjoyed the sun, moon, and stars, plants of all kinds, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.
On the sixth, and maybe the longest, eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many set about making all the creatures of the earth. Things with fur and things with scales. Large things and small things and all kinds of hidden things. Some have come to be named and known while others remain hidden and still others have been forgotten. The One-Who-is-Many took great delight in fashioning all the creatures of the earth, for they were all good.
Late in the day, the One-Who-is-Many realized a loneliness. All the wonders and beauty of creation, yet nothing was like the One-Who-is-Many. So the One-Who-is-Many mixed sacred silence with the mud and matter of creation to fashion a human one. And it was very good. The human one went about naming all that the One-Who-is-Many had made. It was a good day.
As evening came, the One-Who-is-Many saw that the human one was alone. Neither the One-Who-is-Many nor any of the animals were much like it. Realizing that none should be alone, the One-Who-is-Many imagined a companion for the human one. Soon the human one was wrapped in sacred silence so that the One-Who-is-Many could shape another from flesh and bone. This human one was meant to keep the other human one company. Together they were more like the One-Who-is-Many than they were apart. They came to be known as male and female, man and woman.
Some think the sixth eternal day ended here. But others have come to know the story differently. These know that many more human ones were made in the image of the One-Who-is-Many. There is beauty and diversity, even more so as the day stretched on. These others would come to be known as queer people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, and many more. Together with male and female they were more like the One-Who-is-Many than they were apart. All made of flesh and bone and sacred silence, given breath and life and bearing the image of the One-Who-is-Many.
At the end of the sixth eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many looked over all of creation and saw that it was good. The human ones were given the honor of watching over the whole of creation. They were to be caretakers for the earth creatures, creatures of the air and creatures of the sea, everything that grew under the sun, moon, and stars, plants of all kinds, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The human ones delighted the One-Who-is-Many who was pleased with the whole of creation for it was very, very good.
Finally, the seventh eternal day came. It was the shortest of all eternal days. On this day the One-Who-is-Many rested and rejoiced over the works of Creation. It was good to rest on this seventh eternal day. Soon, time would begin to flow as it does now and the human ones would keep the One-Who-is-Many very, very busy because they often forget that though they are many, not one of them is the One-Who-is-Many. But these are stories for another day.
RCL – Year B – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 4, 2015
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Photos from Pixabay. Used by permission.