Gabriel stood at attention in the manger doorway, his sword in his hand. The man took the woman's arm and led her to the entrance. "Welcome, beloved of God," Gabriel thought, "your work is about to begin."
The two men walked quietly into the cattle shed side by side, looking intently for something or someone. Suddenly, a shape moved past them, running for the door, but it was too late. The two grabbed the creature, tied him up and took him outside to be dealt with later.
"That's the last one," said Link, the taller of the two strangers.
"I hope so," said his partner, "the couple is almost here."
The men looked strangely out of place. Their crisp white outer garments, glistening like pure snow on a bright winter day, were a stark contrast to the dirty surroundings of the stable.
"Can you think of anything else we need to do?" The smaller stranger, called Strom, sounded almost pre-occupied as he wandered through the barn-like structure. He moved slowly and methodically, looking up and down, behind the wooden tools and crude furnishings. Using his sword, he carefully poked through the hay, crawling around the animals who seemed oblivious to his presence.
"We've done everything we were assigned to do," said Link, "I still can't figure out why this place was chosen for the birth. We could lead them to a nice warm room in the lodge next door. But who am I to question Him?" When Link said "Him," the was a change in his voice, as an air of solemnity confirmed that the He referred to was someone very special.
"The same question has been going through my mind. Such a lowly beginning. When I think of the Son stooping..." Strom paused mid-sentence, aware of some movement by the cattle stall.
"Look at that; did you see something move over there?"
The two moved toward the corner of the stable only to discover a cat chasing a mouse. Link looked up at Strom, his face breaking into the broad grin he was noted for. "I think you've been working too hard, my friend."
"I guess I'm a little jumpy, but this place must be properly cleansed and prepared for the event."
Peering through an opening in the outer wall, the two caught a glimpse of a stranger at the door of the Inn. There was no moon tonight, but the man still looked as if he were standing under a lamp. A brilliant star had recently appeared, providing enough light for them to make out the solitary form.
"Is that him?" asked Strom.
"No, I have only seen the man once, but that isn't the one we're waiting for. Besides, he will have his wife with him."
The stranger walked into the lodge, leaving the two staring at an empty doorway. "It looks as if he's been given that warm room." Link sounded perplexed. "The couple will have to come out here now. Why couldn't they have been brought here earlier?"
"There you go wondering again." said Strom. "No matter why they are coming to this place, at least it's clean."
Both smiled at the seeming irony. Amidst the sights and smells of the stable, the idea of cleanliness was silly. But clean it was, in the spiritual realm, as these two had removed every demonic being lying in wait for the holy couple.
"You have no authority to hold me like this!" cried the spiteful voice from outside the manger, "I have rights too, you know!"
"Silence!" Strom yelled, "or we will take you before the throne right now!" As an angel, he knew the threat would bring immediate silence from the one tied up. The cleansing was a lot easier than he had expected. Most of the activity by these satanic emissaries had been focused around some of the finer homes in the city. Confirmation had been sent throughout the dark realms that the prophecy concerning Bethlehem was about to be fulfilled. The Messiah was coming.
These fallen spirits had arrived from satanic principalities and powers all over the known world. They had come together to defeat, or at least disrupt, the Messiah's coming. Both angels knew these dark messengers were under a lot of pressure to spoil God's plan at any cost. Watching the behavior of the town's people, who were short-tempered and tense in recent days, they knew the demons were working overtime, and had transferred their frustrations to those around.
Link looked over at Strom who had just seated himself on a milking stool. The smell of the fresh hay was a sweet reminder him of the other times the two of them had been in similar situations. They had followed Abraham and his family on their journey from Ur, worked with Moses in his wilderness shepherding, guarded David as a young boy while he was tending sheep, and served Ezekiel and the elders of Israel while they were in exile. Yet he knew that no other event in their service of the Lord could ever compare to this occurrence. Tonight would be a night of destiny.
Shouting in the city streets brought Link back to reality. "The census has certainly brought in a lot of confusion," he said. "The demons are having trouble keeping track of everybody. They seem to be watching the more elegant houses much more closely, figuring the child will show up there. We may be the only ones who know the exact location of the visitation, since the Almighty has kept most of this mission hidden from the evil one. Now, Strom, don't get too comfortable, we have a lot more to do tonight. Remember we are in charge of the choirs as well."
A sudden rustling was heard outside the entrance of the stable. Strom jumped from his seat, his sword drawn, as a light-haired being walked toward the opening of the manger, accompanied by the sounds of hissing from the bound demon. He stood taller than the other two angelic beings, wearing a similar white garment that was trimmed in gold. A large sword and a ram's horn hung from a golden belt around his waist. His face was adorned with a warm smile that seemed almost permanent.
"Well done, my friends!" exclaimed this new visitor, "you have made this a suitable location for the coming." Both Link and Strom relaxed their warrior's stance.
"Gabriel! We didn't know you would be here."
Gabriel sat down on the milking stool just vacated by Strom. "I'm in charge of the birth watch. I need you to stay with me until the couple arrives, then you can join the choir and move on to the next phase of the mission. If we can keep a low profile, the evil forces will never know this is the place. You should see them... frantically moving among the crowds, looking everywhere for the pregnant woman that was supposed to be arriving. They knew, by the ancient word of the prophets, that this would be the city of visitation; and the star has declared the time; but they still don't know the exact spot."
"How will the couple keep from being noticed," asked Link, "since we've even seen some of the evil spirits enter the Inn?"
"The couple won't even make it through the door!" Gabriel remarked with a chuckle, "They will be told immediately, by the keeper of the Inn, to use the stable if they want." Gabriel's voice grew hushed as though someone might overhear the rest of the conversation. "We plan on keeping a quiet vigil on the birth. I am the only one from the angelic realm - so we will not attract attention from our enemy. It's been rumored the Prince of Darkness may even come to command this operation personally if he thinks something is really brewing. Once you notify the shepherds, Satan's forces will find out quickly that the baby is here. You and the choir will need come quickly and form the first line of defense. Things are going to get sticky from then on. By the way, I hope you're ready for a long tour of duty. The three of us will be staying with the couple here in Bethlehem and then follow them to Egypt.
The two angels looked at each other in surprise. "We were told this would be a simple mission." Link spoke for the two of them as he often did.
"We couldn't afford to let any of the mission be disclosed too early," the Senior Angel responded. "After Egypt, there will be much more to do as well. Remember, you will have the joy of seeing the fulfillment of the Father's promise. You'll be among the privileged few who serve the Son while He is on earth. We'll be busy for quite awhile."
Gabriel leaned back against the stable wall and looked upward. Several minutes passed. "It's time," he said, "the couple has arrived, accompanied by the Spirit."
Link and Strom started for the door. "We'll take care of the one outside and then report to the choir. Gabriel, should you need us, don't hesitate to send word." With that, the two disappeared with their prisoner.
Gabriel stood and took one last look around the manger. All was ready. The animals were peaceful, the hay moist and warm, the spiritual climate was immaculate. He could always trust Link and Strom to be thorough. Peering through the open gate, he saw the outline of an man and woman at the door of the Inn. A sense of expectation built up inside as he beheld their golden glow... the glory of God was clearly upon them."
Watching the innkeeper point to the stable, Gabriel stood at attention in the manger doorway, his sword in his hand. The man took the woman's arm and led her to the entrance. "Welcome, beloved of God," Gabriel thought, "your work is about to begin." The couple entered, unaware of the presence of their spiritual guardian. They did have a sense of peace and rest, however, and Joseph even remarked to Mary about the feeling of safety he had... the safety they would need as the Son came into the World.
Putting his sword away, Gabriel moved close to the holy couple. He placed his hand on Mary's head, prayed, and he blessed her; then he did the same to Joseph. The angel stepped back to allow Mary's husband to help her lay down on the hay, and then knelt beside her.
Heaven held its breath, waiting for the Son of God to be born. After what seemed to be an eternity of waiting, the first cries of the newborn rose from the straw. Gabriel jumped up and raised both hands above his head. "Hosanna in the highest! Glory to God!" he shouted as he danced around the manger. "The Lord has come forth into the world! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Taking the ram's horn from his belt, he raised it to his lips and blew with all his might. The trumpet call was heard throughout the heavenlies, confirming the news: the rescue of mankind had begun. The Son of God, whom Gabriel had seen in the throne room several months earlier was now incarnate as the baby cooing in his mother's arms.
Gabriel stroked the top of the child's head with his soft angelic hand, and stared at the innocent face, bathed in starlight from the manger window. He sighed deeply. "So much ahead of him," he pondered, "so much work... so much pain... so much love to be given.
Soon faces were seen peering curiously through the door of the stable - shepherd's faces. Standing behind them, the two other angels smiled at Gabriel, nodding in approval; everything was under control. Salvation had come to the world.
Randy Sly is a communications expert living in Potomac Falls, Va. He is a convert to the Catholic Church having formerly served as an Archbishop of the ICCEC. He serves as the Associate Editor of Catholic Online.
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