Two angels suddenly appeared in a bar and, after getting their bearings, sat down in a booth by the far corner. Business was light if you called Murray the bartender and Sal, the only other patron, light business. But then it WAS 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve and Murray was gently prodding Sal to understand the significance of this so that he could close. Now he had to deal with these angels too!
Not that he had anything against angels, but it wasn’t often that two long-haired guys (girls? Hard to tell) in long robes with actual wings walked into his bar. And they’re not ordering anything; just sitting there arguing about something and looking at Sal occasionally. Murray was as open-minded as the next guy, but it’s a bar; order something for cryin’ in a bucket!
Murray sauntered over to the booth and asked as casually as he could, “What’ll it be?”
The taller (and maybe older, if angels actually aged) angel raised his finger to his pursed lips and motioned, “Shhh”, then nodded at Sal, as if the three of them were having a private conversation. Nodding his understanding and without further ado, Murray backpedaled to the sink where be returned to washing the glasses in preparation for closing.
The senior angel looked at Sal for a while, who was watching the Yule Log on the TV and finally said, “Sal?”
Slowly turning his gaze from the TV Sal finally said, “How ya been Titus?”
“Fine, Sal. You?”
“The usual, you know. Gettin’ by. Who’s your little friend?”
“Sal, this is Mara. Mara, Sal.”
Mara and Sal nodded at each other politely and when Mara rose to shake Sal’s hand, Sal turned back to the Yule Log.
Ignoring the slight, Mara said, “Titus and I were hoping you could settle a bet.”
“Sure,” said Sal, still watching the Log. “He’s taller.”
“What?” Mara replied in confusion.
“Titus is taller than you.”
“But that’s not … “
“He’s just busting your chops. Let it go,” said Titus. Turning back to Sal he said, “Actually Sal, we were hoping you could tell us the true meaning of Christmas. You know, from a mortal perspective.”
“Whoa! Didn’t see that one coming!” said Sal. “Why me?”
“Well, we were in the neighborhood on a training mission for Mara when we got word that the Lord-God-Omnipotent-Who-Reigneth wanted to know how the team was doing regarding getting the Word out. And I thought of you.”
“You thought of me? As what? Lord God Omni Who?”
Obviously, Sal had never heard the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” or the “Lord-God-Omnipotent-Who-Reigneth” reference would have had more impact. “Ah, mortals,” thought Titus.
“Yeah, you. You’re more of an Everyman type, you know”, Titus shot back.
“You – were – in – the – neighborhood.” Sal spoke the words slowly, trying to absorb them as if these five little words had some vast, deep, inner meaning.
“Sal, it’s not a big deal. If you don’t know the answer, you don’t know.”
“No, no! It’s not that! I’m still wondering why you’ve been ‘in the neighborhood’ for the past four Christmas Eve’s and now you’ve even got a trainee.”
Titus looked at Mara, then back at Sal and finally in mock desperation said, “All right, you’ve got me. I was going to tell you sooner or later but it may as well be now.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I’m your Christmas angel. If you answer this right, I get a promotion.”
Sal stared blankly at Titus, then at his empty mug. He looked up at Murray, who was busily capping bottles. Sliding his mug expertly to Murray’s end of the bar, he motioned for a refill. Murray pointed at the angels inquiringly. Sal looked at them and after looking up briefly for guidance, they shook their heads “no”.
“My Christmas angel? What the hell is a Christmas angel?”
“Well. It’s kind of like a Guardian Angel … only just at Christmas time.”
“A Christmas Guardian Angel,” Sal repeated. “I get it. NOT.”
Titus glanced at Mara, then back at Sal and said, “All right, let me try it this way. Sometimes people who’ve had a, uh, loss during the Christmas season, become a little more, uh, shall we say, vulnerable, and so one us of is assigned to look out for them and try to make sure they get back into the fold, so to speak.”
“Gotcha,” said Sal.
“Really?” Titus said softly.
“Sure. You’re my babysitter.”
Mara exclaimed, “Kind of. We like to think of it more like your Protector since people can get desperate during the Christmas season and … you know. Think ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ meets (pausing for the right analogy) ‘Jersey Shore’.”
Titus whispered to Mara, “Have you ever seen ‘Jersey Shore’?”
Mara shook his head.
“Please, just listen and learn,” Titus said.
Sal laughed and said, “Well, you must be doing a great job because this is the fourth Christmas Eve we’ve spent together and I’m still here. And you’re even up for a promotion!”
His laughter was interrupted by the sound of a hand slapping wood at the other end of the bar followed by a loud “Yo” from Murray. That was followed by a full mug of draft beer sliding down the bar toward him only to come to a full stop right in front of him, as if on command. Now, THAT was an expert slide.
“Last call, Sal. People to see, places to go, things to do.” implored Murray.
“Right on, my brother,” Sal mumbled.
“What can I do for you, Sal? You’re looking kind of … sad today. And this is the first time I’ve found you in a bar on Christmas Eve.” Titus needed to get back on track.
“You tell me. What IS the true meaning of Christmas, ‘cause I don’t have a clue?”
Sal turned his gaze back to the Yule Log and slowly said, “Why is it people never get tired of watching a log burning in a fireplace?”
Mara ignored the log comment and looking for an opportunity to move the conversation forward, chimed in. “I’ll bet you DO have a clue. I’ve done my homework and you don’t strike me as someone who’s lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas.”
Titus looked silently at Mara, then back to Sal. They stared at each other for a moment and then almost as if on cue, they both said, “Kids”, and broke into laughter. The bond they had developed over four Christmas seasons may not be quite as evident tonight, but it was there.
Sal sipped his draft and stared at Titus. “How’s Laurie?”
“Couldn’t be better, Sal. Sal Junior and Melissa too. Everyone sends you their love.”
“Good. Back at them, please? Tell them I really do miss them.” This was a conversation Sal wanted desperately to continue but didn’t really think he had the strength to pursue.
From his end of the bar, Murray watched as Sal talked and the angels listened. Sal would speak and the angels would just sit there, occasionally nodding, otherwise silently and sagely watching Sal carry on a monologue. What were they doing here, anyway, and when were they leaving?
After musing silently, Sal whispers, “Shall I tell you about the best Christmas I ever had?”
Titus nodded slowly and Mara leaned in.
“I was just out of college; maybe a year or two, and somebody got me a three-day gig as a toy demonstrator just before Christmas. Mr. Remco. They make toys, ya know.”
“So I’ve heard.” Titus ventured.
“Think I made about a hundred bucks a day and they rented me a car to get from North Jersey down to Trenton. I forget why, ‘cause I had my own car.”
“When it was over and I finished washing the talcum powder out of my hair, I drove to my girlfriend’s parents’ house for Christmas Eve. Used the powder to make my hair white, ya know. Old Mr. Remco.”
“That $300 was practically all the money I had in the world. We went shopping for Christmas presents till the stores closed at 9:00 o’clock and I spent every penny on the best gifts I could think of. Got to my parents’ house about 1:00 am, snuck in, put all my gifts under the tree and just stood back and cried like a baby. I felt so good about finally being able to get everything I wanted for the people I loved.”
“I’ll bet you did.”
“I had never really cared about what presents I got. It wasn’t about that. Wait, hold that thought. Loved that bicycle. And those trains. Yeah … okay.” Sal smiled and followed the feelings down Memory Lane. “Why can’t I feel that way anymore?”
“Sal?” No answer. Titus pushed forward. “That was really nice, what you just said about your best Christmas ever. You were on the right track there. Giving is always better than receiving. That’s why The Boss gave His Son for all of you. You’ve just become distracted by events.”
“Events? You call having my wife and kids mowed down by some idiot … events?”
“Life is full of events. Watching your Son nailed to a tree by the people He came to save was quite an event, too.”
Meeting no resistance to that statement, Titus continued. “Maybe you’ve forgotten the meaning of Christmas. Maybe you’ve bought into the idea that Christmas is just for kids and presents. I guess it might be easier to spend a few dollars and be done with it in a few weeks than to commemorate His birth year-round. For some people, He does seem to ask a lot, but I’m telling you the reward is great.”
Sal leaned into Mara and said, “Are you getting this down? ‘Cause if he gets a promotion, these are YOUR words next year.”
Mara replied, “I’m familiar with the story, Sal. The question is, do YOU remember it?”
“Skip it. Sorry I mentioned it.”
“Our Father loves you and He wants to make sure you know that,” said Titus.
Mara interjected, “Your family did what they were sent here to do. But if you enjoyed Christmas for what it really is, they … and you … would all be happier.”
“Listen, I’m as happy as I’m going …”
“No, you’re not. You’re really not,” said Titus. “But we are here to help you find the answer to our question, so here’s the deal.
“Since time is short, I’m going to give you the answer, but you have to prove it for yourself. Kind of like science lab. You can read it in the book, but you learn it better if you actually see it. Lots of people can quote a book, but it doesn’t always resonate like it should unless you’ve actually seen it.”
Sal let out a long sigh.
Titus ignored it and continued. “Like any birthday, it should be celebrated by family and friends with a party.
“Laurie always made the Christmas party and you loved it. You LIVED for it. The chance to see people that you don’t see all the time, to hug them and kiss them, to catch up with them and to make your house heaven on earth for just one day every year. To celebrate His Birth, not quietly, but with family and friends, the way it should be celebrated.
“And THAT, my friend, is what you miss about Christmas. Tonight is the time for prayer and thanksgiving and anticipation but tomorrow is the time to really celebrate. You want Laurie in your life? Celebrate Christmas the way she would.”
“Sal. Time, buddy.” Murray was pointing to the clock on the wall.
“Yeah, okay.” Sal stood and turning to Titus said, “Looks like we’ll have to pick this up next Christmas.”
But Titus was gone and in a blur of soft white light and feathers, he could just make out Mara’s face, as it too disappeared. On the counter in front of the stool where he had been sitting was a very large gold coin about half the size of his hand, and unlike anything he had ever seen. The image on one side was a profile of Titus and an inscription that read, “See You Here”. On the other side it said, “St. Anselm’s Midnight Mass – Christmas Eve”.
St. Anselm’s was a block away and it was 11:45.
“Looks like your buddies really know how to make a grand exit.” said Murray.
“Yeah. Spooky too. Merry Christmas Murray.” Sal saw no sense in trying to explain to Murray what had just happened. After three previous Christmases, he still wasn’t sure he understood himself.
As he stepped into the cold, he knew that St. Anselm’s was to the right and home was to the left.
Flipping the coin he called, “Heads – church, tails – home.” Making the catch and cupping his hand over his wrist, he finally dared to look. He flipped it again. And again. And again.
“Oh, Jeez.”, he said as he turned right, took a deep breath and let it out as he walked.
To Be Continued