"Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign."
~Christina Rossetti

Hi all,

Welcome to...
so hard to believe this... JABB's 400th newsletter!  When I realized that, with a lil finessing, JABB's 400th could coincide with the annual Christmas story, I decided to go with it.  Of course, one can't reach a milestone like this and not be contemplative... especially during the Christmas season.  I kept thinking about when I was writing the 2011 JABB Christmas story.  I didn't know where to begin.  I didn't know what to write.  All I knew was I was still sad and I needed help.  Big Time Help.  Enter Joshua.  Honestly, I'm not sure I would have been able to keep JABB going these past three years without Joshua.  He was and is a reminder of the One who really came on Christmas, the One who promised that death is not final.  So... with this unbelievable milestone reached, I decided I wanted to make this 400th newsletter a story about Him.  Obviously what you find below is completely fiction.  But within it is this truth: He still brings life from death and He's still Immanuel: God with us.

Merry Christmas and may you ring in 2014 surrounded by love!

God bless,
The Christmas

Nazareth, Circa 21 AD

He pounded the nails with all his might.  The louder the noise the better. 

Yeshua loved silent contemplation and prayer.  He would soak in every word as the rabbis reverently recited scripture.  He always felt enlivened by deep, softly spoken conversations that could go on for hours.  But now the young man wanted anything that would cover the silence of the workshop, silence that threatened to suffocate him. 

His mother came in, set some food on a shelf, and studied him for a few moments.  In mere hours, Maryam's son would be twenty.  A man.  Her eyes told her as much.  He told her as much and had for years... ever since he'd turned thirteen.  Yosef had told her as much.  Still, Maryam struggled to believe it.  She didn't want to believe it.

"Your heart will be pierced as though by a sword..."

Maryam shivered and pulled her mantle more tightly around her as she remembered the old man's words.  As soon as they had left the Temple, Yosef had been quick to dismiss them as a bit of poeticism.  He'd even laughed and joked, saying the ancient fellow was merely offering commentary on the pain and stress of keeping young ones from straying off the path of righteousness.  She'd laughed, too, and then they'd said no more of it.  But that night she'd woken to find her husband gone... her baby, too.  She'd panicked for a moment and then she'd spied Yosef through a window, cradling Yeshua and weeping.  He'd known it was no poem, no joke.  The boy would suffer and, yes, her heart and soul would be pierced.

But it had been Yosef's heart which had broken first. 

Maryam took a few steps closer to her son, remembering that day a little over a month before.  She was not alone in her memories.

Yeshua finally set down his hammer.  He reached up to his right temple and rubbed, wishing he could wipe away the memories.  It was no use.  No amount of pounding... nothing... could drown out the other noises: His Abi gasping for breath, his own "Ama!", the crash of the tools he'd overturned as he'd run to catch his father before he hit the ground, his Ama weeping and praying, Yosef clutching his hand, and then his own strained voice speaking for his father.

"Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad."

Yeshua began to sob.  He jolted when he felt his mother's arms wrap around his shoulders.  He hadn't heard her enter the workshop.  He hadn't wanted her to see him weep.  He'd meant to be strong for her, strong like his Abi.

"Let it out, my own," Maryam murmured as her own tears fell.  She sat on a bench and pulled Yeshua beside her.

In his mother's embrace, Yeshua let himself cry for his father, his teacher, his confidante, his mother's soul mate, their protector.  Finally, he felt calmed.  Almost.  On this day when everything seemed so ruined, so altered; he needed something of the past, of normalcy, of tradition.  "Ama, could you tell me..."  He didn't finish the request.  It might hurt her to honor it.

"Tell the story?" Maryam guessed.

Her son nodded.  Every year his parents told him the story of his birth, taking turns though always interjecting in each other's parts.  Now his mother would have to tell the story by herself.

Maryam hugged her son closer.  Though she wished Yosef was there to take up his part; she knew it would help to speak of him, to live again in the moments they had shared.  Thus, she told Yeshua of the angels, the shepherds, the Magi.  Her voice shook as she spoke of leaving for Egypt, of Yosef's insistence that they must.

Yeshua smiled to himself.  He could not help but feel that God owed his Abi some explanations and he hoped Yosef had been content with the answers he'd received.

Maryam paused in her storytelling and blushed.  "Yeshu, there is something I never told you before.  And your Abi... he was too kind to tell you himself, I think." 

Yeshua looked curiously at his mother as she reached into the folds of her mantle.  He stared at the shriveled object she produced.

Maryam cupped her treasure in the palm of her hand.  "A rose... once."

Yeshua smiled.  How like his mother to hold onto something once beautiful but no longer.  Yet she was not frivolous.  This rose was important to her.  "What does it mean to you?"

Her cheeks still colored, Maryam resumed her story.  "I praised God that you were delivered from danger.  Your safety, your happiness, your... your life were what I desired most, my Yeshu.  But..."  She gazed around the house that Yosef had so proudly built and furnished himself.  "I loved you and Yosef so.  As I still do, as I always will."  She stroked her son's hair.  "But..."

"You missed your home.  Your... your parents."  Yeshua thought lovingly of his grandparents.  He kissed his mother's forehead, knowing she well knew the grief he felt having suffered the loss of both her parents while he was still small.

"Very much.  And Yosef knew though I tried to hide it.  I know it grieved him to not be able to take that pain away.  Still... he tried.  One evening he returned after a long day at work helping to build a garden for an Egyptian family.  He had a gift for me.  A brilliant red rose bush he had accepted instead of the day's wages."  Maryam gazed back down at the shriveled bud.  "I am ashamed to admit that at first I was cross with him.  We had so little money.  But when I looked at its beauty... it lightened my heart.  We planted it and then our little hut became a home."  She brought the bud up near her nose, hoping to catch some hint of its beautiful fragrance.  There was none.  With a sigh, she lowered her hands and gently ran her thumb over the petals, remembering Yosef's face as it had been that day, flashing from happy to anxious to regretful and back to happiness and well-earned pride.

Yeshua watched as his mother cradled the rose.  He knew she was wishing that time would turn back, that the bloom would become vibrantly red again for if it was alive then so would Yosef be.  The words that came surprised the young carpenter even as he spoke them.  "When we have gone onto my Father's Kingdom, you will have all the roses you should ever wish for, Ama... you and Abi.  And we will walk among them together and they will never wilt nor fade."  He reached out for the dried rosebud, simply wanting to touch something his Abi had.  Closing his eyes, Yeshua imagined what his Abi must have looked like as he'd planted the bush.  He tried to conjure a memory of the rosebush itself, of its colors, its aroma.  He smiled when it seemed he'd succeeded.  He thought he could truly smell the heady fragrance.

Maryam gasped.  Then she began to weep tears of joy.  "Yeshu..."

Yeshua opened his eyes.  Stunned, he stared at the perfect blossom his mother now held.

Maryam breathed in the renewed scent then gently set the flower down.  She again held her son tightly.  He was resurrection, he was life.  The rose was only the beginning.


Dyeland, December 23, 2013

Andrew found JenniAnn in his main hall, staring at the rose.  Often in the past few days he'd found her with that same sad, contemplative look in her eyes.  Though she felt joy at the coming of the Christmas season, her grief remained.  Chava's death had been so recently and come so suddenly.  The angel knew that JenniAnn was glad for their friend.  Finally, Chava had her family back.  She was dancing again with her David.  She was with God and JenniAnn knew there was no better place to be.  Yet she missed Chava.  Nearly three weeks had passed since the woman's death but JenniAnn still made occasional references to going to visit her before she remembered that was impossible.  And there was more Andrew now knew.  Something JenniAnn had hidden from him.  She was struggling and the Father knew she needed help.  Normally, He would have sent an angel.  But there was no need to send anyone.  JenniAnn's angel was already there and so God had simply given him the knowledge he would need to reach her.  Andrew smiled softly to himself, a slight blush coloring his cheeks.  So many times he had dreaded the possibility of ever being assigned to one of his friends.  Now it had happened but what he felt was far from dread.  As always, the Father knew best. 

The angel stepped closer then swept his friend-turned-assignment into a hug.  "I'd offer you a penny for your thoughts but I don't have my wallet on me.  Would you settle for tea?"  His smile grew.  It wasn't often he could behave so with an assignment.  He chuckled.  Really this was the first time.

In spite of her melancholia, JenniAnn smiled.  She didn't know why Andrew was laughing but, as always, the sound enchanted her.  "You wouldn't have to offer me anything... but, yeah, I'll take the tea.  Do we have time, though?  The others will be here soon to help with the tree decorating.  Max and Rose any minute now."

"There's time," Andrew insisted, stepping away from her and turning in the direction of the kitchen.

"Okay.  But first..."  She looked back to the rose.  "You know what it means... the color changing and everything... don't you?"

Andrew glanced from the rose to the floor and then, finally, back to his friend.  He nodded.

"I... I think I do, too." 

"What do you think it means?"  Andrew would not tell her but he wouldn't deny the truth, either, if she'd come upon it.

"It... several petals turned red while you were in Afghanistan.  And then with everything with Chava... some turned then, too.  And at other times when... when you said or did something that drew you closer to us.  And now there are so very few white ones left and... and I think when it is fully red, that's when you'll begin to age."  JenniAnn reached for the angel's right hand, clasping it in both of hers.

Andrew thought back to nearly a year before when he and Joshua had stood where he and JenniAnn now did.  It had only been shortly before, when he had at last returned Home following his assignment with Max, that Joshua had fully explained the rose.  And though Joshua had spoken with far greater authority and knowledge, his explanation matched the one JenniAnn had intuited.  The angel of death nodded.  "Yes, Laja."

JenniAnn sighed.  She'd known the change would come soon.  Andrew's answer didn't surprise her.  But she knew exactly what had brought about the changing of some of those petals and she knew herself to be the reason behind some of the ruby ones.  It was daunting and humbling and yet utterly unsurprising.  She rested her cheek against the angel's chest as she continued to study the flower.  "Does it come from Heaven?"

"Yes... well, by way of Egypt."

The woman's head darted up.

Andrew smiled at her obvious surprise.  He couldn't fully explain the rose's origins to her.  Not yet.  Soon but not yet.  Still, he could keep it general.  "Once, hundreds of years ago, there lived a young couple.  They were forced many miles from their home and the wife very much missed her family and her own house.  Hoping to cheer her and make her feel at home, the husband bought her a beautiful rosebush.  He planted it for her, promising her that though they were far from their own village, she and their child would always have a home with him.  God saw the roses and what they meant to the couple and He saw that it was good."

JenniAnn smiled at the familiar turn of phrase.

Andrew's own smile grew.  How badly he wanted to tell her that God had seen from the vantage point of His mother's lap and greeted the rosebush with a baby's squeal and a caress from a slobbery hand.  Soon, he reminded himself again.  "So... eventually God decided He wanted the roses with Him, too.  Though the roses perished from the earth after several years, roses from that same bush live on in Heaven and this..."  He waved to his rose.  "Is one of them."

JenniAnn gripped Andrew's hand tightly.  "Why... why did He give it to you?  I mean I know what its purpose is now but... but surely you would know even without it when the time has come.  I mean on your birthday you set a date a-and everything."

The angel of death nodded.  "Yes, Laja, I would have.  But..."  He gently tugged her towards the kitchen.  "Let's sit and I'll tell you the rest."

Though anxious, JenniAnn was patient as Andrew made tea.  She politely sipped at it when he took the chair beside hers.

"There's more about the rosebush that I need to tell you.  About the original one, I mean.  The one from which my rose... our rose... and so many others came."  Andrew reached over to caress her cheek.  "Years passed after the rosebush was planted.  The little family moved and one day the husband died.  It was a heart attack.  It came swiftly and he... he didn't suffer for long."  He brushed away the tear that slid down his friend's face.  He knew she was thinking of Chava and others before her who had left the world similarly.  "He died in the arms of his wife and son and his God... our God.  For weeks after his death, his wife carried a faded, dried bud from the rosebush he had planted for her.  It was her way of keeping her beloved close.  And then one day... a Christmas Eve, actually... that dead rose bloomed back into life."

"Why?  H-how?"

Andrew sighed.  He wished he could tell her that it had been the life-giving touch of a certain Nazarene, of the man whose emblem she wore around her neck.  "God," he answered simply.  "It was His way of showing the woman that He could bring life from death and that she and her son would one day be with their husband and father again.  Always."

Another tear slid down JenniAnn's cheek.  "And so with your rose... our... our rose... He's showing us..."

"You said it yourself, Laja, the night I first came back after being in Afghanistan.  The rose is God's signature.  He's the Author of Life!  Your life, my life, Max's life, Rose's, Kemara's, Shelby's, Monica's, Arthur's, Adam's... the lives of everyone we know and those we don't know.  He caused that rose and its ancestors to grow.  He tended our rose, Laja.  Every time a petal changed, it was His hand that made its color alter."  Amazed anew, Andrew stood up and began to pace as he spoke.  "This was always His plan for us, Laja.  And He wanted you to know that.  He wanted to show you that... in shades of white and red.  All the questions you've kept to yourself... He's heard them and He knows the answers.  He's always known them."

JenniAnn let out a sob.  She had so many questions... but one was chiefest.  She had tried to let it go when, over the summer, Bennie had flung it in her face.  And she had succeeded.  But when Chava had died it had resurfaced to torment her.

Andrew knelt in front of her, lifting her hands from her lap and holding them in his own.  "He knows that, in these past months especially, you've thought about what my decision means.  And now I know that, at times, you've thought about how I made my choice because of all of you.  You've matched petals to... to things I've said or done with each of you.  And sometimes you worry what it'll mean for me when you've all gone Home and I'm still here.  You've grieved Chava because you loved her and oh how she loved you... and loves you still.  But the heaviness in your heart, Laja, it's not only grief.  I know that now.  God told me because He loves you and He doesn't want you to carry that worry... for me... any more.  He knows that Chava's death reminded you of... of the inevitability of your own.  And... and He knows you've thought about when Monica was promoted and how I was sad because I didn't see her or Tess or Gloria as much as I used to on Earth and even though you know I could and did still see them in Heaven, you know me so well that all you could think about was the times I wished to have them at my side during assignments that... that broke my heart.  And you know that, in time, that void was filled by you, by our friends.  I sought solace with you on Earth or in Dyeland when... when the pain was too deep, too binding to leave behind.  You're afraid for when I'll lose that.  But I won't, Laja.  We won't.  Because that rose means the same thing its original did."  Light surrounded Andrew, both emanating from him and from Above.  "It means we'll be together always.  I don't know what exactly will happen when... when the decades pass and you've all gone Home.  But God does.  He's known since the beginning.  He's willed it since the beginning.  There is nothing that can happen between now and then that will throw Him for a loop, Laja.  He's seen it and He saw that it was..."

"Good," JenniAnn finished, squeezing his hands and smiling through her tears. 

"Yes.  Please don't worry any more about what will happen then.  I trust Him when He tells me that whatever comes to pass, I won't feel lonely or abandoned.  Can you trust that, Laja?  Please," Andrew implored. 

"I trust Him a-and I trust that you would never, ever lie or... or be careless about His words.  So yes... I... I trust that."  Finding Andrew's joy decidedly infectious, JenniAnn laughed softly then slid down from the chair and knelt, twining her arms around the angel's neck.  "Thank you."  She kissed his cheek, released him then took hold of his hands, and lifted her eyes.  "And thank You for this moment... this beautiful moment and so many others.  Glory be to You who has given us this wonderful life."

"Thank You," Andrew continued, "for giving all of us lives so full of love... love for You and for each other, love from You.  Thank You for this promise, for the rose."  He smiled down at JenniAnn and, meeting her eyes, he had a sudden flash of a vision that took his breath away.  He let go of her hands so he could embrace her.

It was not the ending to prayer that JenniAnn was used to...  "Andrew?" she whispered.

Her soft, questioning voice roused him.  Andrew sighed and smiled again.  "Amen."

"Amen," JenniAnn echoed.  She waited a few moments, expecting Andrew to move and release her but he seemed in no particular hurry.  She would have been content to remain as they were for all time... or at least a few more minutes... but Max and Rose were due to arrive soon to help haul out the ornament boxes.  She smiled wickedly.  "Andrew, love, while this is very nice and I'll certainly be able to give you a glowing report if, as an assignment now, I'm ever asked to weigh in on an evaluation... Rose and Max are due any minute and this looks ever so slightly compromising.  Then again, we are Max's acting parents and thus we have twenty four years worth of mortifying him with public displays of affection to make up for so... carry on."

Andrew chuckled.  He got to his feet and reached down for her hand.  When she was standing beside him, they hugged.  "How do you feel?" he asked quietly.

"Better.  A thousand times better.  And you?  For a moment... it seemed like you went somewhere."

The angel peered into her eyes just as he had when the vision had struck.  He replayed it in his mind.  Her standing beside his Christmas tree, a little girl balanced on her hip.  They were examining the ornaments, the baby giggling as she reached for one emblazoned with the word's "Annabelle's First Christmas, 2014."  Then his Laja turning around and smiling at him, her face more radiant than he'd ever seen.  "Still with you and with God," he responded truthfully.

JenniAnn beamed.  "Good.  And now..."

The doorbell rang and the pair dashed to the front door.  Andrew reached it first and peeked out, grinning when he saw Max and Rose.  He was pleased to see the former had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

"Merry Two Days Before Christmas!" Rose greeted as she hugged Andrew and JenniAnn. 

JenniAnn laughed.  "Same to you!  I'm so glad you both could come a bit early so..."  She cocked her head when Max set down his bag before hugging her.  "What's in the bag?"

Max looked to Andrew curiously.  He'd expected him to tell JenniAnn but realized the angel had left the honors to him.  "I decided to come home for Christmas, Maja.  I'm staying here at Serendipity through the weekend."

Tears of joy welled in JenniAnn's eyes.  "I'm so glad to hear that, Max."  She hugged him again.

"Very glad that you're glad and... I'm glad we're finally getting this tree decorated."  Max stepped into the living room then turned back around to smile at Andrew. 

JenniAnn bowed her head.  She knew Andrew hadn't gotten to his tree because he'd spent his spare time tending to her and organizing the annual Willowveil Christmas tree decorating bash when she'd kept spacing it.

Andrew circled an arm around JenniAnn's waist to reassure her that he did not consider his time ill-spent.  "I'll be glad to get it decorated, too, Max.  But I like that I waited.  It'll make tonight even more Christmas-y and then tomorrow we have the concert at Ivy's church and then Wednesday we'll have Christmas morning together."  He turned to Rose.  "You and your aunt are more than welcome."  He already knew she'd snatch the invitation up, knowing Max would be there... their first Christmas as a couple.

Rose beamed.  "We'll definitely be here."

Max smiled with glee.

"Now that that's settled... let the hauling begin!" Andrew declared, setting off a giddy group dash to the basement.


Most of Andrew's visitors remained until nearly 11:00, singing carols and reciting favorite holiday poems and stories after the tree was decorated.  Then only Max, Violeta, JenniAnn, and the dogs were left.  Per tradition, they settled in to watch It's a Wonderful Life

While he loved the movie, Andrew found his gaze often traveling away from the screen and to the others in the room.  Max was laying on his stomach, sprawled across a couch with a throw pillow balled up under his chin.  He was a picture of ease and comfort.  JenniAnn was seated in the rocking chair with Violeta perched on an ottoman in front of her, getting her hair braided.  Andrew's eyes misted at the sight. 

Suddenly, Violeta let out a small gasp.

JenniAnn froze.  "Sorry.  Did I pull?"

Not taking her eyes from the screen, Violeta shook her head.

Max chuckled.  From his vantage point, he could see the young angel's eyes were wide and she was biting her lip.  All their joint Harry Potter viewing had taught Max that Violeta took movies very seriously.

"'He says it's the chance of a lifetime...'"

"'Now you listen to me!  I don't want any plastics and I don't want any ground floors and I don't wanna get married ever to anyone.  You understand that?  I wanna do what I wanna do!  And you... and you're...  Oh, Mary, Mary...'"

"'George, George, George...'"

Violeta sighed.  Finally, she turned away from the screen and grinned at her supervisor then JenniAnn.  "I was afraid he wasn't going to stay with her after all that talk about going out on his own and seeing the world!  So glad he wasn't that stupid."

Andrew smiled.  "Me too.  Good man, George."

Only JenniAnn caught the wistful note in his voice and smiled tenderly at him before focusing again on Violeta's tresses.

As the Baileys got married and began their wonderful life together, Andrew considered his.  For one hundred and thirty years, he had worked his cases largely alone.  Sometimes he had missed Sam's company but the solitary work had pleased him.  He'd relished the chance to prove himself, to show that he could do the Father's will without supervision.  He'd enjoyed conferring with only God about his assignments.  He still felt that they'd grown even closer in those years.  As the years passed, Andrew had striven to do better and better, to touch more and more lives.  He hadn't taken days off.  He'd always passed on vacations, determined to spend as much time doing the work God had blessed him with.  And yet, as the decades wore on, Andrew had begun to feel as if something wasn't quite right.  His heart had still swelled with happiness when he saw assignments joyfully reunited with loved ones.  He'd remained touched by earthly scenes of families gathered around the dinner table, of wives and husbands caring for each other in sickness and in health, of children and parents navigating the growing up years and beyond.  He hadn't been envious of them but their examples made him long for companionship.  Soon after he'd admitted this to himself, the angel of death had been reunited with Tess and met Monica.  For over seven years they'd often worked together and when that ended it had hurt.  But God had not left him to face that alone.  By then three years had passed since his introduction to Dyeland.  The very day he had hugged Monica good bye, he had danced around his living room with JenniAnn.  And now both groups had come together in a crazy, perfect blend.  In the past year alone, God had worked so many miracles in their intertwined lives.

Andrew looked over at Max who obviously felt very much at home.  A little over a year before, the young man had thought he would have to face his recovery from their trials in Afghanistan with only his ne'er do well father for occasional company.  Now Max had a home, a family, and a girl who loved him.  He was growing in the faith he'd always wanted but struggled to find... something JenniAnn insisted was testament to a better example of fatherhood in Andrew that made it easier to trust in the Father. 

Then there was Violeta!  The angel of death remembered how surprised he'd been when the Father had entrusted him with her.  She was so young and so new to the world of humans.  And then there was the matter of her female form...  Such supervisor/trainee pairings were not unheard of but rare and Andrew had wondered how he was supposed to navigate that.  Now he knew.  In the past year, Violeta had grown closer to all his friends but especially JenniAnn, Kemara, and Ivy.  They guided her when he could not, with Monica and Tess weighing in.  She was a joy to him and he was so proud of her.

Chava.  It was hard to believe not even a year had passed since an excited JenniAnn had told Andrew she wanted to introduce him to her new friend.  In all the tears and grief and embraces and hope, he and Chava had at last found healing.  Chava's kindness and refusal to judge had endeared her to so many in the Tunnels, perhaps Owen especially.  Since her arrival, Andrew had noticed a marked change in the young man.  Owen was as humorous as ever but no longer did he hide behind his jokes.  Then, after leaving her mark on so many lives, Chava had found her way back to David, to Home, to Life Eternal.  In her story and in her example, Andrew knew that he and JenniAnn had truly found each other. 

Seeing JenniAnn finish off another braid for Violeta, Andrew was reminded of their shared time in Nebraska and of Ivy.  He was excited to see the teen and eager to get an update from her in person.  Over the phone Ivy sounded like a completely different girl from the one whose popped bike tires he had replaced.  This Ivy was self-assured and happy and optimistic.  She had a grandmother who loved her and was proud of her and she knew, without any doubts, that the Everlasting Father loved her.

Andrew wondered how differently the assignment with Ivy might have been had their expanding tribe not included Kemara.  She had, with her honesty and understanding, helped Ivy find her own voice.  By sharing memories of her own troubles, Kemara had allowed Ivy to air her own.  Andrew knew that had been a turning point in his assignment and he was grateful to Kemara for that and for her friendship.  The angel knew that the time among them had helped Kemara and brought her much needed and deserved joy and companionship.  He knew, too, that she still struggled with the legacy of old wounds but prayed that, with time, God would help them all to heal those scars.

Looking to his mantle, Andrew smiled at a photo of "Dumbledore" and "Luna" hugging tightly.  Though Shelby was growing up, she had shown both him and JenniAnn that she still needed them, still wanted them around.  Now too big for Andrew to carry in his arms as he used to, he always carried Shelby in his heart.  The hope and promise of watching her grow up had encouraged him through many an assignment... including so many only the month before.

Andrew's gaze shifted to the photograph next to the one of Shelby and him.  Arthur and Monica were standing in front of a sparkling, ice-coated tree.  They both looked so content and so much at peace.  The angel of death marveled anew at the miracle of their reunion.  Though November had been gut-wrenchingly and heartbreakingly difficult at times, Andrew had found moments of joy in seeing them grow closer together.  A wistfulness that Monica had long kept buried so deeply that only those closest to her could see it was gone. 

All this and more God had given to them in the past year and, as was happening increasingly often, Andrew thought he would burst with happiness.  And he knew that 2014 would bring only greater joy.  Joshua would be with them.  Soon.  A month, maybe two. 

Andrew was shaken from his thoughts by JenniAnn snuggling up beside him. 

"Well, I've done what I can to give Violeta the wavy, 'angelic' hair she wants," she whispered.  "And now..."  She caressed his face.  "I hope those are happy tears there in the corners of your eyes."

Andrew nodded.  "Very happy."  Then, resting his cheek against his friend's hair, the angel watched as George learned lessons of his own about family and love and giving up on one dream to find a better one.


Nebraska, December 24, 2013

As Andrew drove through the streets of JenniAnn's hometown, Kemara gazed out the window and admired the lights.  She turned away when she heard a steady jingling noise.  The cause, she discovered, was Violeta.   The angel was practically bouncing in her seat and thus setting off her own jingle bell earrings.  "I wish I had that much energy!  So... how much coffee did you drink, Violeta?" Kemara teased.

"None.  I ate lots of sugar cookies, though."  Violeta peered into the dashboard mirror.  "Are we almost there?" she asked Andrew.

"I told you five minutes ago that we were ten minutes away so..."  Andrew made eye contact via the mirror.  "Five minutes."

The young angel frowned.  "I thought maybe we'd get there quicker since you said traffic wasn't as heavy as you thought it might be."

"Maybe three minutes.  Sweetheart, we'll get there in plenty of time.  Don't worry."

Violeta sighed.  "I know...  I just really wanna see Ivy."

Seated in the front passenger seat, JenniAnn turned around and patted her hand.  "I know.  How about we sing a song to make the time go faster?  Kemara, you pick," she hastily added.  Violeta had taken to "Jingle Bell Rock" and JenniAnn couldn't bear one more rendition.

Andrew smiled as Kemara started up with "Away in a Manger."  By the time everyone had moved onto "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," the Jolly Green was pulling into the lot outside St. Stephen's.  A cheer went through the van when they spotted a girl with curly red hair waiting near the door to the church.  Soon she saw them and set off at a run.

"You made it!!!" Ivy shrieked with glee when the green mini-van came to a halt and the doors opened.

Andrew's passengers smiled widely as they hopped out of the Jolly Green and joined the ecstatic teenager on the sidewalk. 

"Of course we did!" the angel of death replied as he hugged her.  "We wouldn't miss the concert for anything.  And we wouldn't miss the chance to see you.  It's been a month!  How you doing?"

Ivy beamed.  "Very, very well!  And how about..."

"You look so cute!" Violeta gushed when she'd made her way around the van.  "That dress is awesome!"

"Your hair!  I love it!  And thanks!  Grandma took me shopping last week.  Took us forever to find something that didn't have spaghetti straps.  Why do designers think we all want to freeze?" Ivy lamented with a grin. 

JenniAnn laughed as she took her turn to hug the girl.  "Most of them don't come from our lovely, frozen Midwest, methinks."

"Many of them don't actually come from reality," Kemara joked as Ivy hugged her.  "So how's school, well, I mean before break started?"

"So, so good.  Show choir's been awesome and a few of us started a Bible study.  I've made some more friends cause of that.  And... straight A's for the semester."

All four of Ivy's visitors cheered loudly.

Blushing, the girl continued.  "And Leo is very much enjoying his first Christmas... slight scare when he found a box of chocolate and downed several pieces but we were lucky that he only ended up with a little tummy ache."  Her eyes twinkled.  "And... Grandma has a boyfriend."

JenniAnn giggled, trying to square this revelation with her first memories of Doreen Lee.  "Wow...  That is news!  So do you like him?"

"Well, ummm..."

JenniAnn's face fell.  "Oh, I'm sorry."

Ivy laughed.  "Oh, no.  It's not that I don't like him.  Actually... I like him a lot.  And so do you."

"So do I?  You mean I know..."

"Mr. Spelman?" Kemara merrily guessed.

Ivy beamed.  "The one and only!  C'mon in and you can see him.  He and Grandma have been looking forward to seeing all of you."

Andrew chuckled.  "Well, that's something.  I just talked to Mark and he didn't say a thing.  I'm happy for them!"  He noticed Kemara shivering.  "You girls head in," he directed.  "I'll wait for Arthur and Monica."

"Monica," Ivy repeated, lowering her voice.  "I know you said she was another angel but... Arthur?"

Violeta's smile grew.  "Arthur is to Monica as JenniAnn is to Andrew."

Kemara laughed.  "Good use of analogy."

"Arthur's an aide worker extraordinaire, Ivy," JenniAnn explained with reddened cheeks.  "It's his first Christmas with our group so we're trying to include him and Monica as much as possible."

"Cool!  The more the merrier.  Let's head in.  Andrew, we'll wait towards the back so we can show ya the rows we saved.  The Hunters are already inside, too."  Ivy looked to JenniAnn and smiled.  "And your parents.  Your dad's wearing his ugly Christmas sweater."

"Oh joy..."  Despite the sarcasm, JenniAnn's face lit up.  Christmas wasn't the same without some ugly sweaters.

"Actually... Mr. Spelman and Mr. Hunter are, too...  I think it's a plot."

Violeta halted.  "Did anyone see Andrew without his coat on?"

Kemara and JenniAnn looked to each other and shook their heads.

Ivy laughed as she led them inside the church's community center.


After enthusiastic reunions and introductions and the revelation that Andrew and Arthur were also donning festive sweaters, everyone settled into the chairs Doreen and Co. had been saving.  A few minutes later, the strains of "Silent Night" on piano started up.  Fr. Xavier took his place at a podium and began to read.

"'In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.'"

On stage, two of the parish school's students and a papier mache donkey made their way to a lowly stable. 

Despite the abundance of frolicking reindeer, neon snowflakes, and dubious looking Santas adorning the sweaters of the men in Ivy's crowd, a serious awe had settled over them all as the ancient story was recreated before them. 

Angels appeared to shepherds who came trooping towards the manger to discover that the small structure that had held two now sheltered three.  After smiling tenderly at the baby, one of the angels made her way to a microphone.

A lump formed in Andrew's throat as Ivy began to sing. 

"In the first light of a new day no one knew He had arrived.
Things continued as they had been while a newborn softly cried."

JenniAnn's eyes flooded with tears of longing, for a baby of her own and for Him... little knowing that the latter was already near.

From where he sat off to the side of the auditorium, Joshua saw Andrew embrace the softly weeping woman.  He noticed that, though her voice didn't waver, Ivy's eyes were brimming, too.  Joshua followed Kemara's gaze as it traveled from the infant to the crucifix.  She bowed her head and echoed his wistful sigh with her own.  Joshua looked to Monica who rested her head on Arthur's shoulder as she thought of all "Jack" had done for them.  He smiled then watched Violeta as she peered at the baby; remembering her own "babyhood" and the first eyes she ever saw, the first voice she ever heard.  He heard when, upon looking at her human friends, she wished they could have such memories, too.  Joshua looked lovingly and longingly at each person in the church, angel and human both.

Feeling a rush of love, Ivy's voice strengthened, rousing the few in the audience whose attention had wavered.

"But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of His birth.
In the weakness of a baby they knew God had come to earth.
As his mother held him closely it was hard to understand
that her baby, not yet speaking, was the word of God to man."

Tears pricked Joshua's own eyes as he watched over them all.  "Soon," he whispered.

Andrew heard the word reverberate through his soul.  He looked up, saw Joshua, and then he knew.  The angel had gotten the impression Joshua would come down sometime before their assignment together actually started but he hadn't known when.  As their eyes met, all was clear and Andrew wondered why he hadn't realized before what Joshua had planned.  It was so... Joshua-like.  Silently, Andrew promised that he would do all he could to see this latest stage in their journey together through.


December 25th, 2013

Andrew had been unable to sleep following the concert.  He simply didn't feel tired and his mind was filled with plans and dreams.  Despite being content to ponder all these, the angel of death was happy to see JenniAnn when she arrived shortly before daybreak.  He laughed when he saw how laden her arms were with stocking stuffers.

"Merry Christmas, Laja!" he greeted, taking some of the bags and boxes from her. "You should have asked me to come help you haul all this!"

"Merry Christmas!  And thank you.  None of it's heavy, just bulky."  She dropped the remaining items onto the couch and hugged him.  "Mmm... you already have chai brewing."

"The box said 'Christmas Chai' so I thought we'd give it a try." 

After he poured her a cup, she took a sip.  "Yum.  Oh, I brought a mixed Christmas CD to listen to... quietly.  So we don't wake Max.  Stocking stuffing just requires some festive music."

"I agree."  Smiling, Andrew accepted the CD and started it before settling onto the couch and reaching into the box of stockings he'd brought out earlier.  "And Arthur's up first for me."

JenniAnn blindly picked out a stocking and smiled.  "Monica's... appropriate.  They looked very happy last night.  So... was the sweater thing a plot?" she asked as she tucked some coffee into the stocking.

Andrew smiled.  "Your dad's.  Actually, at first he just told me that *I* should wear one because he knew it'd make you smile.  But then he mentioned it to Kevin and he told Mark and then I didn't want Arthur to feel left out so..."

JenniAnn reached over to squeeze his hand.  "Thank you.  It did make me smile.  And that was..."  She laughed.  "That was a very... nice... sweater you had.  Although I couldn't tell if the reindeer were playing or fighting."

The angel chuckled.  "Let's go with playing.  I'm glad they made you smile."  He squeezed her hand back then finished loading Arthur's stocking with an assortment of treats and some Matchbox cars which he'd learned the man had collected as a boy.  As he moved onto Max's stocking, Andrew begun to hum along to the song playing.  "I like this CD."

Focusing on the music, JenniAnn blushed and set down Kemara's stocking.  "Oh... I forgot I'd put this song on it.  I, umm...  maybe I should change it."  She rose and walked towards the CD player.

Amused, the angel looked up at her.  "Why?  This isn't the 'Moondance' thing reborn, is it?  I like this song.  The tune's real pretty and... 'Winter tells its truth to anyone who'll listen.  It will whisper to you slowly when the light is low.'  That's beautiful, Laja."

"Well, yes, but..."  The color in the woman's cheeks rose as the song progressed.

"'There are some things left broken and some things to hold tight.
To the few brave birds of the season who are sky writing:
Shine your light.
Cause there's a drunken angel,

dancing to my heart
Singin' lonely days
Brand new start"

"It... it's even called 'Drunken Angel,'" JenniAnn confessed.  "I was working on the CD already when Chava died and then when I tried to get back to it, this was the first song I found and I... I just liked it because it seemed to be about finding hope even when... when you're sad... drunk angel notwithstanding."

"It does."  Andrew stood and moved towards his friend, gently turning her away from the CD player and towards him.  "Maybe he's drunk on happiness, Laja.  The angel, I mean.  And... and ready to start a new chapter with those he cares about."

JenniAnn blushed again and looked down at her hands.  She was surprised when, unbidden, tears splashed down her cheeks.  "You know what it does to me when your voice goes all husky like that..." she murmured, grasping for some explanation.  But she knew it wasn't just his voice.  She knew it was the words, that Andrew was describing himself.  That something had made him tremendously, ridiculously happy and she knew that at least some part of it had to do with her.

Andrew sighed.  How badly he wanted to tell her... about the baby, about Joshua.  But she had to learn about Joshua on her own.  He knew she would want that.  Joshua wanted that.  And the baby... Annabelle... he didn't know who she was or where she came from.  Maybe she was a cousin or a Tunnel foundling who had only been visiting JenniAnn.  Maybe she belonged to someone else.  And yet Andrew couldn't forget how those same eyes that were peering up at him had shone and how much love he had felt himself for the little one.  He hoped and prayed.

"Dance with me, Laja.  Please."  Andrew hadn't asked since Chava's death.  He'd sensed JenniAnn wasn't ready.  But now... now with the worst of her grief behind them... maybe.  And he just wanted her to feel at least something of the joy in his heart.

Brushing away her tears, JenniAnn smiled and curtsied to him.  "I happily accept."

Grinning, Andrew bowed and then swept her into his arms, leading them on something that was half-waltz, half-tango.  He smiled when she laughed.

Upstairs, Max snuggled into his pillow and sighed.  The sound was muffled but still he heard the music and the laughter.  Though Andrew and JenniAnn had tried to keep it a secret, he knew they were in the living room filling stockings just as they had the year before.  But they'd taken a break.  Dancing.  The idea made him feel warm and peaceful and safe... and hopeful.  Max sighed and closed his eyes, imagining some future date when he and Rose might be dancing in the glow of their own Christmas tree.  Never had it seemed more possible.

Waking early and unable to get back to sleep, Kemara settled into the window seat of her new room, in her new house.  She was awed as she looked out upon her first Christmas morning in Dyeland.  As dawn broke and she gazed at the sky above and its reflection in the sea below, she wondered about what the sky must have looked like, filled with angels and stars, on that holy night over 2,000 years before. 

Outside her cottage, bundled up in her favorite Aran shawl, Monica was also staring up at the sky.  She closed her eyes and drank in the peace of the moment, conjuring memories of that first Christmas morning.  When she opened her eyes, she saw Arthur coming across the yard with two thermal mugs she knew would be filled with coffee that they would share in front of the fireplace... their first Christmas together.  "Thank You," she whispered.

Feeling restless and giddy, Violeta perched on the windowsill of her guest room at Serendipity.  She stared out at the brightening sky and smiled.  "Happy birthday!" she cried.  Then the knowledge came to her, the same knowledge that had consumed and uplifted her supervisor the evening before.  Hugging herself and crying, the angel laughed.

At St. Mary Magdalene's in Manhattan, Fr. Mike was sipping his tea and putting last minute touches on his Christmas homily.  While trying to conjure the perfect words, he looked up at the painting hanging over his dining room table... Joshua's painting.  The priest stood and rested his hand over the portrait of the white butterfly.  "Happy birthday, Josh," he whispered.

In Nebraska, Ivy roused from a sound sleep.  Her heart was pounding... not in dread or fear or anxiety but happiness.  It was Christmas!  Though it was still dark, she knew she wouldn't get back to sleep.  She got to her feet and lit her candle, illuminating the carved lion beside it.  Then she felt compelled to sing the song she had the night before when God had seemed so close.

"But the sadness would be broken as the song of life arose
and the firstborn of creation would ascend and take his throne.
He had left it to redeem us but before his life began,
He knew he'd come back, not as a baby, but as the Lord of every man

In the dim light of the morning, a gray car drove down a New York City street.  It slowed to a crawl then stopped in front of a rundown apartment building with peeling paint.  The man in the front seat gave a low whistle.

"It... I suppose it has character," the woman beside him offered charitably.

"Yes, all the character of our first 'home'..." the man muttered.  "All it needs is a few cows and chickens and sheep."  He swiveled around and smiled at his passenger. 

Feeling the driver's gaze upon him, the man in the back seat turned from the window.  "And a donkey."

"Yes... definitely a donkey," the driver agreed.  He turned back around to again survey the dilapidated structure.  He shook his head before speaking again.

"I hope you find better than a feed trough for a bed, Yeshu."

Joshua chuckled.  "Especially considering I would hardly fit in one these days.  I'm sure the bed will be fine, Abi."

"Yes, yes.  But we're going in with you.  Have a look for ourselves.  At least get you settled."  Yosef again looked doubtfully at the building.  "I wish I'd brought my tools...  I'll borrow yours."

Joshua laughed and shook his head.  "No carpentry today.  Who wants to be woken up on Christmas morning by someone pounding shingles back into place?"

Yosef sighed.  "Yes, of course.  But I would feel better if we at least had a look."

Maryam squeezed his hand then angled around to face Joshua.  "Please let us come with you?  At least for a little while?  It's your birthday and..."

"And you have to tell me the story of when I was born."  Joshua grinned. 

Maryam smiled back.  "Yes.  We do.  It's tradition."

"Then welcome to my soon-to-be humble abode."  Joshua leaned up to kiss his mother then got out of the car and opened her door.  When Yosef had made his way to their side, the three leaned against the car for a few moments and stared at the building.

"Is the office open yet?" Maryam asked.

"Soon."  Joshua smiled when a light came on.  "Now." 

They grabbed the few bags he had and headed to the door.

"$600 a month, one month minimum stay," a voice barked when they stepped inside.  The man behind the counter looked up.  "$150 fee each month if there's more than two adults in there."

Joshua blinked.  "Thank you.  It's just me.  My parents are here to get me moved in but then they're going Home."

Mellowing, the man chugged some coffee and smiled.  "Nice parents."

"The best," Joshua answered as Maryam and Yosef beamed.  "Joshua Davidson.  We spoke yester..."

"Right, right.  You have the deposit?"

Joshua took some money from his pocket and set it on the counter.  "Right here."

The man produced a key.  "Room 333.  It's Christmas.  We'll do the paperwork tomorrow."

Joshua smiled warmly.  "Thank you.  Merry Christmas."

"Back at you.  Elevator's broken."

Still smiling, Joshua returned to Maryam and Yosef and led them up a dingy staircase.

"At least you will have work to keep you busy as you wait on Andrew and your show," Yosef mused as he pulled Maryam away from a rotting floorboard.

Joshua nodded.  "Yes.  Much work." 

On their way to Apartment 333, they passed a door through which they could hear a baby squalling.  Without realizing it, Maryam began to softly sing her son's cradlesong.

Joshua reached for his mother's hand and smiled proudly when the infant quieted. 

When they came to his door, Joshua unlocked it and turned on the light to reveal one room that served as kitchen, living area, and bedroom.  Only the bathroom was separate.

"It is... ahh..."  Yosef was fixated by the poorly planed door.

"Enough.  It is enough," Joshua finished for Yosef, smirking and hugging him as he did.

"Right," the man agreed.  He returned the smile.  "It is a step up from a stable at least."

Maryam ran her hand over a threadbare fold-out couch.  "All it needs is a little time and attention.  And we have both to give."

The next several minutes were spent unpacking, cleaning, and setting up house.  Joshua laughed as he noticed various items appear that he was quite sure he hadn't packed. 

"A fishing net?" Joshua questioned as he pulled one out of a bag he thought had only contained clothes.

"Cephas insisted," Maryam explained. 

"He thought you might want to use it to corral the rats," Yosef joked as he arranged Joshua's most used tools on a bench.

"Right..."  Chuckling, Joshua threw it over a window.  "Well, it makes for a rustically attractive curtain."  He turned around in time to see his mother spread a richly colored silk cloth over the worn kitchen table.  "Mary..." he murmured.

Maryam nodded.  "She thought you should have something of home... and Home.  I agreed."  As soon as she had said the words, a wooden bud vase appeared in the center of the table holding a bright red rose.  Maryam smiled at the two men and then patted the table.  "Come, let's have breakfast.  Yeshu, I made your favorite."

Needing no further encouragement, the two men hurriedly washed up. 

When the food was laid out and they'd all taken seats, there were a few moments of silence.  Yosef looked at Joshua and away then Joshua did the same. 

Maryam laughed.  It wasn't the first time she'd had to translate.  "Yosef, I believe Yeshua expects you to say the blessing because that is the way it was for us since the beginning.  Yeshu, I believe Yosef feels that since this is your home... for now... it is your right and your honor.  Is this correct?"

"Yes, Ama."

"Yes, Maryam."

Joshua smiled.  "Perhaps you could say the blessing, Ama?  Settle the matter that way?"

Yosef nodded, smiling proudly.  "A fine idea!"

Taking their hands in hers, Maryam began.  "Lord, bless this morning, bless the people of this building, of this city, of this world.  Bless the people who will come to love our Yeshua and... and show Your mercy to those who... who do not.  Please be with Your Son in every moment, with every step just as You were before.  Let Yeshu be encouraged and protected by the love of those who have long loved Him even when... when He cannot feel their love as He is used to feeling it."  Maryam sighed.  This alone she knew bothered her son.  As soon as he began work on the show, Joshua would face the world in a way very similar to how he had during those precious thirty three years.  He would not know what those he came into contact with thought or felt unless they told him... something that was by no means assured given only the angels would know he truly was.  Well, the angels and one other...  Once again, her boy would live with many of the uncertainties all humanity did and bind himself to their earthly experience.

Joshua squeezed his mother's hand to reassure her.

Maryam continued.  "Thank You for this time together, for this meal and all the others we shared.  Amen."

"Amen," Yosef and Joshua echoed.

Then Joshua eagerly took a bite of the freshly baked bread covered in figs and smothered in warm honey.  He sighed contently.  "As wonderful as ever, Ama."

"Good.  That stove is very different from ours." 

The two men laughed then talked animatedly about the evolution of tools while Maryam listened with amusement, occasionally piping in to voice the contrary opinion that the two of them running around Nazareth with power tools might not have been ideal.

When breakfast was finished, Joshua looked expectantly at his parents then to the rose and back to Yosef.

The carpenter chuckled.  "I guess that is my cue."  He moved to the futon with Maryam and once Joshua was settled between them, Yosef began.  "One day, when I was eighteen, I passed the village well and I saw the most beautiful girl I had ever seen... which was not much of a coincidence since I made a point of passing that well at the same time every day... except the Sabbath... because I knew that was the time the fair maiden's mother sent her to fetch water.  But that day was different because on that day I had convinced myself that I would ask Yehoyakim for your mother's hand."

"An offer your grandfather readily accepted because he and my mother loved Yosef... and they knew I did, too.  Dearly."  Maryam beamed at Yosef.  "Plans were made and I set about to prepare for my new life.  Sewing clothes and weaving blankets and gathering advice... welcome and not welcome... from the village women.  One day while I was out washing some of my handiwork, I heard a rustling of the trees and when I looked up, an angel was standing there!  He said 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'  And though he smiled kindly, I was afraid."

"Very little in life prepares one for glowing people, I've learned," Yosef deadpanned.

Again Joshua laughed.

"It is hard to imagine ever being afraid of Gabe now," Maryam mused.  "But I was at the time.  So he knelt in front of me... I had fallen to my knees in fright... and took my hands and told me not to be afraid.  He said I had found favor with God and that, though a virgin, I would conceive and bear a son who I would name Yeshua... Jesus... Joshua." 

Joshua moved into his mother's arms where he remained for the rest of the story... their story... His story.


Back in Dyeland, Andrew leaned against the archway between the living room and the hallway.  He watched over his friends, wandering what the next Christmas would be like for them... the Christmas after Joshua's arrival.  He looked to the tree and thought again of the ornament and the baby in his vision.

JenniAnn, who had gone to the kitchen to check on the cinnamon rolls, approached and wrapped her arms around him.  "What ya thinking?"

Andrew returned the hug and smiled.  "I'm thinking that as much as I'm loving this Christmas, Christmas 2014 is going to be even better."

"This year will be hard to beat... what with my very own revelation scene," JenniAnn teased.

"Hard maybe... but not impossible."  Andrew bowed his head.  "Is anything too... too difficult for the Lord?"

Hearing the catch in the angel's voice and knowing the original context of those words, JenniAnn's eyes welled but not from unhappiness.  She smiled up at him.  "No."

Together, they looked to their friends.  Rose was showing her aunt the necklace, a gold and garnet cross, that Max had given her.  Max was marveling at the pocket watch he'd received and tracing the engraving.  He looked to be near tears... happy tears.

"Do you know what Rose had engraved into it?" Andrew asked.

JenniAnn nodded.  "Guess."

Andrew smiled.  "Always."

"Yeah..."  She laughed.  "Good choice on the bubbles."  JenniAnn pointed to where Kemara and Violeta were blowing into bubble wands, each trying to best the other.

"Christmas is a time for remembering what it's like to be a child... or just plain young supposing you were never a child."  The angel of death grinned. 

"Yes.  Sometimes it's nice to be a grown-up at Christmas, too, though," JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew followed her gaze to where Arthur and Monica sat near the fire.  The angel was opening a small box.  Her old friend watched with a crooked eye brow, wondering what Arthur had gotten.  "Triskeles..." he whispered as Monica slipped the earrings in.  "Like the key chain Monica gave me."

Monica half-laughed and half-cried and whole-heartedly hugged Arthur.

"I... I told her once that I loved that symbol because even though the lines spiral away, they remain connected at the center... with the hope of coming together again.  It reminded me of you and her.  But now..."  JenniAnn sighed and smiled wistfully.  "It makes me think of them, too."

"I think a little bird must have inspired Arthur's choice of gift."

"A bird who doesn't feel like a bird..."

Remembering the first time JenniAnn had used the phrase... the day she had found out about his decision to age alongside his friends... Andrew's embrace tightened.  He looked over at the rose and marveled anew at the promise God had given, at the vision, and at the knowledge of what would soon enfold with Joshua.

"Happy birthday," he wished silently.

As if she heard him, JenniAnn echoed the angel aloud.  "Happy birthday.  Thank You."


Yosef looked over to where Joshua sat near the window, watching over the people milling around down below.  The carpenter noticed when Joshua pressed his hand to the glass and closed his eyes.  Moved, Yosef patted Maryam's arm, causing her to look up from her loom.  She crossed over to her son.

"What is it?" she asked softly.

Joshua turned away from the window and smiled.  "Andrew and JenniAnn just wished me a happy birthday.  And Arthur thanked me for bringing Monica back into his life.  Monica's mentally running through excerpts of the Lorica because her heart's so full that her mind can't form words of her own.  Max hopes I'll give him a sign when the time is right for the big question to Rose.  Rose just hopes that Max stays safe and happy... always.  Kemara is thanking me for being born... for living... for saving them.  And Violeta... well, she's just trying to blow a really big bubble."  He laughed then briefly closed his eyes.  "Ama, when this starts... I... I'm going to miss hearing them always."

Maryam hugged his shoulders.  "You know how I felt right before you were born.  I was so looking forward to seeing you... to holding you... hearing your first word... helping you along with your first steps.  But... a part of me was very sad.  When I was pregnant, I could always account for your whereabouts.  You couldn't very well go anywhere without me!"

Joshua laughed.  "No."

"And I could keep you safe because of that.  We were close in a way we would never be again.  But then you were born...  And you were perfect.  Any pain I felt about losing you here..."  Maryam rested her hand over her belly.  "It was replaced by the joy I felt in my heart and in my soul when I could look into your eyes and hear that tiny laugh and feel your little hand resting against my face."  She looked out the window, smiling down at the people going to and fro.  "From the moment you created them, they've been a part of you.  They will still be that, Yeshu.  But now is your time to look into their eyes, to laugh with them, and to feel their hands in yours."

Brushing at a tear, Joshua nodded.  Already his and his Father's plan was beginning.  His grasp of what would happen over the next few months was growing hazy.  He had in mind a basic outline of events that would come to pass but exactly how Andrew's friends were involved and what they and the others he would come into contact with would feel about him... Joshua was no longer sure.  But he knew it had to be this way.  When he showed up at the theatre that very first time, only the angels would know who he was and why he was really there.  Just as neither the humans nor the angels could read his mind or know his plans, so too would their thoughts and plans be kept from Joshua.  It would be as it was before: him trying to win them over with every word and every action.  He would hope and pray they would truly hear and understand him and know how much he loved them. 

It would be different, too, though.  Joshua still remembered everything of the past and he would retain those memories throughout his time with them.  How would that feel?  How was he going to cope with "meeting" all of them and recalling the moment of their creation, their first words, their first steps, the first time they told him they loved him and not be able to hug them or tell them how much he loved them?  How would it be to sit beside them and have little to no idea what they were thinking?

Yosef approached and sat to Joshua's other side.  "Yeshu, it's not so bad... the unknowing, I mean.  When you were a boy and you would be pondering something and I would feel like you were a world away, I wished I knew of your thoughts, of your feelings.  But then you would look at me and ask some question I had never thought to ask or make some declaration about the nature of things that was startling... and perfect... in its simplicity.  Knowing you entrusted me with your thoughts... knowing you chose to tell me these things that weighed on you and interested you... that meant a great deal to me.  A great deal.  You have always had that in part, Yeshu.  But now when they confide in you, it will be because they know and love you.  Not simply what they have heard or read about you.  No, they will be confiding in you because they love and trust the man... the God... they have befriended."

Joshua smiled.  Yes, there would be that.  And then he'd be able to tell them what was in his heart.  "Yes.  Yes, of course.  Thank you for reminding me, Abi."

"You're welcome."  Yosef patted his hand.  "Now... to church!  It will do you good.  I know it will.  Where shall we go?"

Joshua looked back to the window and smiled.  "Andrew's bringing some of them to St. Mary Magdalene's, Mike's church.  It's not time to make myself known.  Not yet.  But I'd like to be there with them and speak with Mike."  He moved to his feet.  "I'll drive.  I better get back into the habit."

Returning his smile, Yosef handed off the keys and the three headed out.


When he had finished reading the Gospel, Fr. Mike stepped down from the apse and moved to the front of the nave.  He'd always preferred to give his homilies from there, closer to the people.  By making it easier to see people yawning or rolling their eyes or, conversely, smiling or looking engaged, preaching from the nave inspired the priest to do his best.  Before beginning, he greeted a few people nearby and then smiled at the Dyeland crew who were several rows back.  Then, further back still, Fr. Mike saw someone else he recognized.  He blinked, thinking the vision was only the result of wish fulfillment.  When he opened his eyes, the man was still there... seated between...  It couldn't possibly be...

"Josh..." he murmured.

For a moment, the priest considered running to him but then he saw Joshua smile and shake his head.

"Later," Joshua mouthed.

From where they sat, JenniAnn and Kemara exchanged anxious glances.

"Is he okay?" Kemara asked Andrew.

"As far as I know," the angel answered.  He turned around, trying to see what had so effected Fr. Mike.  It was hard to see anyone more than two or three rows back but Andrew had a feeling he knew who was there.  "Maybe he just saw someone he didn't expect to see."

Fr. Mike froze.  Everything he'd planned evaporated from his mind.  Gone were the things he'd wanted to say abo
ut Joseph's and Mary's bravery and faith.  His musings about the shepherds and how the angel's promise offered them so much had fled.  His witty warning concerning the innkeeper and the need to maintain room for God in one's life was just beyond his mental grasp. 

Again, his eyes locked with Joshua's and the only word the priest needed came to him.


Fr. Mike drew in a deep breath then slowly let it out and smiled at the congregation.  "You know, I planned to give a homily about all the important figures in the Christmas story.  But right now I... I'd really like to talk about one of Jesus' many names.  And He has tons.  The Way, the Truth, the Life, the Word, Messiah, Christ, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, and many, many others.  But there's one that's long been one of my favorites to contemplate: Immanuel.  God with us.  And I think we should note that it's not 'God will be with us' or 'God was with us.'  It's simply 'God with us.'  Now, in the past, in the future.  Always.  God was with us in a very special way 2,000 years ago when He was born for us, lived for us, and died and rose for us.  But I think... I know... He's just as much with us now as He was then.  When you leave here today and ride or walk home, He's with you as you journey.  When you gather together with your family to celebrate His birth, He's at the table and gathered around the tree with you and, yes, even in the living room watching the annual marathon of A Christmas Story."

Fr. Mike beamed when he heard Joshua's deep laughter.

"Jesus is with us in this church today.  Celebrating with us.  Remembering how... how it all began.  And knowing that if He had to do it all over again... He would."  A sudden fear seized the priest but he again looked to Joshua and was calmed by his serene smile.  "But I think right now He's just happy to live with us in this day and in all our days to come.  Soon we'll be welcoming in a new year and, as we do, remember that just as He was with you this past year, so will He be in the year to come.  When your heart is broken, God is with you.  He's holding you and whispering His love to you.  Over and over and over.  When your heart is bursting with joy, God is with you.  He's laughing and dancing and jumping around looking ridiculous with you.  He's just... He loves you.  All of you and He's... He's really and truly with you.  And as beautiful, as wondrous as Christmas is, don't let it be the only time you think about that.
  Immanuel.  It's not just a name.  God with us.  It's not just words.  It's true... one of... of the truest things.  He... He's really here."

Fr. Mike at last paused and looked around the congregation.  Everyone was focused intently.  Some were smiling.  Others were wiping at tears.  A fair number were hugging others.  The priest beamed at them all and then once again looked to Joshua, his smile growing more tender. 

"So that's what was on my mind," Fr. Mike began again.  "Merry Christmas and happy birthday, Jesus."

In their pew, Maryam and Yosef hugged their boy.


After Mass had ended, the congregants all filed out past Fr. Mike with many of them stopping to visit.  To the man's credit, he rushed no one including his Dyelander friends.

"I loved your homily, Fr. Mike!" Kemara gushed.  "You had us a lil worried for a second there, though."

JenniAnn nodded.  "You seemed a lil... thrown at first.  But what a recovery!  So beautiful..."

The priest laughed.  "It was just a sudden..."  He looked to Andrew who was smiling knowingly.  "Sudden inspiration that caught me off guard.  I... I really felt that one."

"It showed," Monica assured. 

"Very impassioned," Arthur agreed, shaking the man's hand. 

"I... I really loved it," Violeta confided quietly.

Fr. Mike squeezed her hand, sensing she knew something was afoot.

"Are you coming back home at all today?" Kemara checked.

Fr. Mike nodded.  "I'll be by my parents' tonight."

"Good!" JenniAnn cheered.  "Otherwise, Andrew was under orders from your mom to kidnap you."

The angel of death chuckled.  "And she ain't kidding."  Andrew hugged the priest.  "You have a very merry Christmas, Fr. Mike."  He lowered his voice.  "Enjoy your time with your guest."

"I... I will.  Merry Christmas to you, too." 

The others echoed the greeting back then followed Andrew to the mini-van.  Only a few minutes later, the last of the parishioners had hurried off and Fr. Mike was alone in the vestibule.  He went back inside and saw that Joshua had moved to the very same pew where he'd been sitting the first time he'd seen him. 

"J-josh," Fr. Mike whispered, his voice weakened by emotion.

Joshua turned around then leapt to his feet and ran towards the priest, pulling him into a hug.  "Mike!  Awesome job on the homily!"

"My... my Lord...  To... to have You honor me with another visit..." Fr. Mike stepped back, shaking his bowed head.  "I am so... so blessed.  A-and... happy birthday and I... I love you."

Joshua hugged him again.  "Thank you.  I love you, too, Mike."

Fr. Mike clung to him for a few moments.  Then he noticed the couple who had been sitting with Joshua were still there, studying some stained glass windows in a side chapel.  "Are they..."

Joshua smiled proudly.  "Mary and Joseph.  Maryam and Yosef.  I call them Ama and Abi.  You can, too, if you want.  I want you to meet them but first..."  He tilted his head towards the nearest pew and they both sat down.  "I'm going to need your help, Mike."

"A-anything.  Anything at all."

"You know the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar?"

The words were so unexpected that Fr. Mike laughed and, with that, felt more at ease.  This was Josh, his Best Friend.  "Sure."

"Soon Andrew's going to be directing a production of it and... and I'm Jesus."

"Yes.  You know I believe with all..."

Joshua laughed.  "I do.  Sorry.  I meant I'm playing Jesus... I'm playing me."

Fr. Mike let the words sink in.  "Andrew knows?"

"Yes.  Violeta knows I'm going to be around... like this... but she doesn't have the details yet.  I didn't want to trouble her with having to keep too much from her friends.  She's so..."

"Bubbly?" Fr. Mike ventured.

Joshua chuckled.  "To put it mildly.  I love that girl.  But, yes, bubbly.  And she's grown used to confiding in Kemara and JenniAnn.  I didn't want to strain her but with you...  Some of them may come to you for counsel and so you should know.  I hope it doesn't complicate things too much for you."

The priest adamantly shook his head.  "No... no.  Your secret is safe with me.  I trust this means you'll be spending time with many of the Dyelanders and... and they're meant to form their own conclusions about you?"


"That... that's wonderful!  And a musical of that scale...  It... it would requires weeks, months even.  So..."  Fr. Mike grinned.  "You'll be around... like this... for months?"

"Yeah..."  Joshua beamed.

"Best... best Christmas present ever.  Well, I mean since... you know."

Laughing, Joshua nodded.  "I know.  Now, c'mon."  He stood.  "I'll make introductions.  Were you still planning on handing out lunch to the homeless?"

"Oh, yes.  Definitely."

"Can we join you?"

Once again, Fr. Mike was awestruck.  It still slayed him how Josh spoke as if he were just some average guy.  Nothing in the three and a half years since the first visit had changed that.  "Uh huh," the priest choked out.  "I... I'd love that."


With a goofy smile spread wide across his face, Fr. Mike let Joshua lead him to Maryam and Yosef.


That evening, Monica had voiced her desire to host a coffee and cookies party for those who had remained in Dyeland for Christmas night.  Though her small cottage wasn't ideal for hosting duties, she and Arthur had managed to make it cozy, welcoming, and reasonably roomy.  An hour after their arrival, Violeta noticed that her supervisor was no where to be seen.

"Do you know where Andrew is?" she asked JenniAnn who was visiting with Owen.

Startled, JenniAnn surveyed the room.  Before worry set in, she noticed movement outside.  "Looks like he stepped out front for some fresh air.  I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you checked on him."

Smiling and nodding, Violeta grabbed her coat and went to join Andrew.  She found him a few yards from the cottage, staring up at the starlit sky.

The crunch of the snow informed Andrew that he was not alone.  Turning to find Violeta, he held his arms aloft.

The young angel hurried into his embrace.  "I... I haven't had any time alone with you all day and I've been wanting to tell you... I know.  Joshua... he's in New York!"

Andrew beamed.  "Yeah.  He has a few things he has to get in order first but then... we're going to have some company on an assignment."

His trainee sighed.  "I... I just can't believe it...  It... it's so wonderful."

"And exactly the sort of wonderful thing he's best at."

Nodding, Violeta angled her neck to look back at the cottage.  "And they'll get to meet him?"

"Yes.  Not quite yet but soon."


Andrew stroked her hair.  "You'll know when the time is right."

Violeta blushed.  "Probably for the best that I don't know exactly.  I almost slipped up a couple times over the summer with those hair sticks he made!"

Andrew chuckled.  "He knows."  He let out a deep, contented sigh.

"What is it?"

"For years now, I've been blessed with the chance to meet and get to know many of their parents.  Now, for the first time..."

Violeta giggled.  "They'll get to meet our Father... their Father!"

Andrew replied with a boyish grin and nodded.

Spontaneously, Violeta dropped to the ground and began making a snow angel.  "'Glory to God in the highest heaven,'” she cried.

Laughing, Andrew joined her.
  "'And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!'"

For a few moments more, they lay in the snow and gazed up at the stars. 

"God with us..." Violeta murmured.

"Always," Andrew replied.

Then they rose, hugged, and headed back to their friends... treasuring in their hearts the wondrous promise of what was soon to come.

As they stepped into Monica's cottage, both heard that much loved voice.

"I love you.  See you soon!"


Back in his apartment, Joshua was again staring out the window but now he felt much more at peace. 

"What are you thinking?" Maryam asked as she joined him with Yosef following her lead and standing to Joshua's left side.

"I'm thinking I'm glad I can talk this time.  Much better than crying."

Maryam laughed.  "And what would you have said back then if you'd been able to talk?"

Joshua's eyes grew very tender.  "I would have said 'Thank you, Ama.'"  He kissed her cheek.  "And 'Thank you, Abi.'"  He kissed Yosef's cheek.

Knowing no spoken response would say all they meant for it to, Maryam and Yosef embraced their son.

Just as they had all those years ago; Yeshua, Maryam, and Yosef huddled together and stared up at the stars on Christmas night, feeling the Father's love surround them.

Maryam glanced over at the rose and then back at her son and her soul mate.  She remembered the wrenching scene in the workshop on the eve of Yeshua's twentieth birthday.  Simeon's words once again echoed in her mind.  She sighed.  Yes, her heart had been pierced and Yosef's had been broken.  But both had been healed.  So many people had been healed.

“I am the resurrection and the life," Yeshua had said as he'd stood outside Lazarus' tomb.

Maryam smiled.  As always, her sweet boy was right.

The End

Merry Christmas!!!


Luke 2:35
The Shema/Deuteronomy 6:4
Genesis 1
Acts 3:15
It's a Wonderful Life
Harry Potter
Isaiah 9:6
"Jingle Bell Rock"
"Away in a Manger"
"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"

Luke 2:1-6
"In the First Light" by Robert John Kauflin
"Moondance" by Van Morrison

"Drunken Angel" by Thea Gilmore- I heard this song on Pandora.com and instantly knew it had to be the song LJA and Andrew danced to.  Andrew is right.  It's beautiful so don't let the title         turn you off. 
Luke 1:26-38
Genesis 18:14
The Lorica of St. Patrick
John 14:6

John 1:1
Revelation 5:5
John 1:29
Isaiah 7:14
A Christmas Story
Jesus Christ Superstar
Luke 2:14
John 11:25

This newsletter is dedicated to John who, as Andrew, constantly reminded us that this life is only the beginning and that true Life is yet to come.  Week after week, no matter the season, Touched reminded us of the promise of Christmas, of the Hope born in a stable.

ETA: When this was originally published, we hadn't yet discussed what charity this year's JABB Christmas donation would go to.  We chose Big Brothers Big Sisters.


JABB 401

(Photo Credits: The photographs used on this page are from Touched by an Angel and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions. They are not being used to seek profit.)