We crowded the steps leading to the baptismal pool. I negotiated a maze of angel wings and halos to take my place with the other two kings. The small area, the only backstage in the small wooden structure, smelled like sweat and candy cane. Our high pitched voices grew louder as the time for the pageant grew near. The Sunday School teacher placed her finger against her lips and zoomed her bottle green eyes in on each of us, the perfect silent “shh.” As we quieted, the preacher’s sonorous voice spread over us like eggnog, and we all waited like marathoners at the start line.
Suddenly, the preacher spoke the code word; Glory! Mary and Joseph entered with the plastic baby Jesus. Sheep and cows lumbered onto the tiny proscenium, baa-ing and moo-ing. Shepherds sauntered in with their giant sheep herding sticks. The Sunday School teacher, now stationed on the front row, gave the shepherds a preventative glare, because she knew all about boys and sticks. Angels flitted across the stage, halos wobbled.
Finally, finally, it was time for the three Kings to arrive. I took a deep breath and entered stage left. The other two kings followed apace. We moved to center stage. The pianist began playing arpeggios. This was my cue. I took a step forward and started to sing. Silver glitter from star the preschoolers contributed to the pageant twinkled off the light of my uncle’s varmint huntin’ spotlight.
She’s wearing her princess costume today, with her gold glitter shoes. Her mother carefully pulled her hair into a French braid this morning, but it’s clear that she’s played all morning, and the braid has sprouted little blonde chutes. It’s one week exactly before Christmas Eve. The line of shoppers waiting at the check-out is unreasonably long. She and her mother have finally reached the cashier. While her mother pays for her merchandise, she hops on one foot, then pulls on her mother’s leg. Mom picks her up and holds her until it’s time to sign the pay slip. When Mom puts her down, the child slides down her Mother’s body, resisting the ground with all four of her years.
The little princess silently demonstrates her displeasure by raking her hand across the gift card display and knocking several gift cards to the ground. Mom bends down to eye level and speaks into the princess’s ear. Mom then says, “There are only five. You need to pick them up.”
The girl’s answer is no. It’s unequivocal and clear. Mom puts her hand over her own face, and I think she’s about to give up. Then, she removes her hand, all traces of frustration erased. She kneels next to her daughter, gently coaxing her. Shoppers walk around the two with disgruntled looks on their faces. After a few moments, the little princess starts picking up the gift cards and placing them into their display case. By the time she finishes, she has a smile on her face.
Mom picks the girl up, takes her package and walks away from the cashier stand. The little princess pulls a starry wand out of her mother’s purse. The last thing I see as they exit is the star perched over the brave mother’s head.
He knew nothing of nitrogen. Hydrogen, gas, and light years were an as yet unraveled mystery. He knew only the love of his wife and children, the gentle breeze along the hillside, the sounds of the animals, the cadence of the night. He knew vigilance; wolves prowled these lands and sleep meant the loss of his precious livestock.
Then, fire split the night. The voice of one who said, “Savior.” He glanced across the hillsides. Others stood with their eyes upturned, watching, listening. “Find Him,” said the voice. He considered, thinking of his children, his wife, his animals. A song arose, and he glimpsed the angel, hair flowing in a corona above him, backlit by the great mass of hydrogen and nitrogen. His face turned toward the City of David as the angel sounded “Glory!”