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Authors: Agatha Christie

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BOOK: Star over Bethlehem
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And sorely against her will, Mary knew that what she had been shown was indeed Truth … and she could not disbelieve any more.

The tears raced down her cheeks and she bent over the child in the manger, her arms outspread as though to protect him. She cried out:

“My child … my little helpless child … what can I do to save you? To spare you from what is to come? Not only from the sorrow and the pain, but from the evil that will blossom in your heart? Oh indeed it would have been better for you if you had never been born, or if you had died with your first breath. For then you would have gone back to God pure and unsoiled.”

And the Angel said: “That is why I have come to you, Mary.”

Mary said: “What do you mean?”

The Angel answered: “You have seen the future. It is in your power to say if your child shall live or die.”

Then Mary bent her head, and amidst stifled sobs she murmured:

“The Lord gave him to me … If the Lord now takes him away, then I see that it may indeed be mercy, and though it tears my flesh I submit to God's will.”

But the Angel said softly:

“It is not quite like that. God lays no command on you. The choice is
yours
. You have seen the future. Choose now if the child shall live or die.”

Then Mary was silent for a little while. She was a woman who thought slowly. She looked once at the Angel for guidance, but the Angel gave her none. He was golden and beautiful and infinitely remote.

She thought of the pictures that had been shown her—of the agony in the garden, of the shameful death, of a man who, at the hour of death, was forsaken of God, and she heard again the dreadful word
Blasphemy
…

And now, at this moment, the sleeping babe was pure and innocent and happy …

But she did not decide at once, she went on thinking—going over and over again those pictures she had been shown. And in doing so a curious thing happened, for she remembered little things that she had not been aware of seeing at the time. She saw, for instance, the face of the man on the right-hand cross … Not an evil face, only a weak one—and it was turned towards the centre cross and on it was an expression of love and trust and adoration … And it came to Mary, with sudden wonder—“It was at
my son
he was looking like that …”

And suddenly, sharply and clearly, she saw her son's face as it had been when he looked down at his sleeping friends in the garden. There was sadness there, and pity and understanding and a great love … And she thought: “It is the face of a
good
man …” And she saw again the scene of accusation. But this time she looked, not at the splendid High Priest, but at the face of the accused man … and in his eyes was no consciousness of guilt …

And Mary's face grew very troubled.

Then the Angel said:

“Have you made your choice, Mary? Will you spare your son suffering and evildoing?”

And Mary said slowly:

“It is not for me, an ignorant and simple woman, to understand the High Purposes of God. The Lord gave me my child. If the Lord takes him away, then that is His will. But since God has given him life, it is not for me to take that life away. For it may be that in my child's life there are things that I do not properly understand … It may be that I have seen only
part
of a picture, not the whole. My baby's life is his own, not mine, and I have no right to dispose of it.”

“Think again,” said the Angel. “Will you not lay your child in my arms and I will bear him back to God?”

“Take him in your arms if it is God's command,” said Mary. “But
I
will not lay him there.”

There was a great rustling of wings and a blaze of light and the Angel vanished.

Joseph came in a moment later and Mary told him of what had occurred. Joseph approved of what Mary had done.

“You did right, wife,” he said. “And who knows, this may have been a lying Angel.”

“No,” said Mary. “He did not lie.”

She was sure of that with every instinct in her.

“I do not believe a word of it all,” said Joseph stoutly. “We will bring our son up very carefully and give him good religious instruction, for it is education that counts. He shall work in the shop and go with us to the Synagogue on the Sabbath and keep all the Feasts and the Purifications.”

Looking in the manger, he said:

“See, our son is smiling …”

And indeed the boy was smiling and holding out tiny hands to his mother as though to say “Well Done.”

But aloft in the vaults of blue, the Angel was quivering with pride and rage.

“To think that I should fail with a foolish, ignorant, woman! Well, there will come another chance. One day when
He
is weary and hungry and weak … Then I will take him up to the top of a mountain and show him the Kingdoms of this World of mine. I will offer him the Lordship of them all. He shall control Cities and Kings and Peoples … He shall have the Power of causing wars to cease and hunger and oppression to vanish. One gesture of worship to me and he shall be able to establish peace and plenty, contentment and good will—know himself to be a Supreme Power for Good. He can never withstand
that
temptation!”

And Lucifer, Son of the Morning, laughed aloud in ignorance and arrogance and flashed through the sky like a burning streak of fire down to the nethermost depths …

In the East, three Watchers of the Heavens came to their Masters and said:

“We have seen a Great Light in the Sky. It must be that some great Personage is born.”

But whilst all muttered and exclaimed of Signs and Portents a very old Watcher murmured:

“A Sign from God? God has no need of Signs and Wonders. It is more likely to be a Sign from Satan. It is in my mind that if God were to come amongst us, he would come very quietly …”

But in the Stable there was much fun and good company. The ass brayed, and the horses neighed and the oxen lowed, and men and women crowded in to see the baby and passed him from one to the other, and he laughed and crowed and smiled at them all.

“See,” they cried. “He loves everybody! There never was such a Child …”

 

A Wreath for Christmas

When Mary made a Holly wreath

The blood ran red—ran red.

Another Mary wove the Thorns

That crowned her Master's head.

But the Mistletoe was far away

Across a Western sea,

And the Mistletoe was wreathed around

A Pagan Apple Tree.

In Glastonbury grew a Thorn,

When Joseph came to trade.

And the Holly Bush was common growth

In every wooded glade.

But the Mistletoe was sacred where

The Sun arose each morn,

And the Mistletoe knew nothing of

The Babe in Bethlehem born.

Saint Patrick sailed the stormy seas

To preach the Cross—and so

He found Eve's Tree—with serpent coiled—

And hung with Mistletoe.

“I bid thee, Serpent, leave this Land,

And open, Plant, thine ears.”

He preached the Tale of Christ—and Lo!

The Mistletoe wept tears …

The Holly bush has berries red,

Blood-red upon each bough.

The Thorn it blooms with golden flowers,

And Kissing's fashion now.

What will
you
give to Christ the Lord?

O! Pagan Bough so green?

“The Tears that I have shed for One

Whom I have never seen …”

Let Man then give his life for Man,

The blood-red berries say,

And Men have love for fellow men,

Where Gorse flowers bloom so gay.

And the Tears of Man be shed for Man

Where Mistletoe gleams white.

Come, pity, love and sacrifice …

God bless us all this night!

The Naughty Donkey

Once upon a time there was a very naughty little donkey. He
liked
being naughty. When anything was put on his back he kicked it off, and he ran after people trying to bite them. His master couldn't do anything with him, so he sold him to another master, and that master couldn't do anything with him and also sold him, and finally he was sold for a few pence to a dreadful old man who bought old worn-out donkeys and killed them by overwork and ill treatment. But the naughty donkey chased the old man and bit him, and then ran away kicking up his heels. He didn't mean to be caught again so he joined a caravan that was going along the road. “Nobody will know who I belong to in all this crowd,” thought the donkey.

These people were all going up to the city of Bethlehem, and when they got there they went into a big
Khan
full of people and animals.

The little donkey slipped into a nice cool stable where there was an ox and a camel. The camel was very haughty, like all camels, because camels think that they alone know the hundredth and secret name of God. He was too proud to speak to the donkey, so the donkey began to boast. He loved boasting.

“I am a very unusual donkey,” he said, “I have foresight
and
hindsight.”

“What is that?” said the ox.

“Like my forelegs—in front of me—and my hind legs—behind me. Why, my great great, thirty-seventh time great grandmother belonged to the Prophet Balaam, and saw with her own eyes the Angel of the Lord!”

But the ox went on chewing and the camel remained proud.

Then a man and a woman came in, and there was a lot of fuss, but the donkey soon found out that there was nothing to fuss about, only a woman going to have a baby which happens every day. And after the baby was born some shepherds came and made a fuss of the baby—but shepherds are very simple folk.

But then some men in long rich robes came.

“V.I.P.s,” hissed the camel.

“What's that?” asked the donkey.

“Very Important People,” said the camel, “bringing gifts.”

The donkey thought the gifts might be something good to eat, so when it was dark he began nosing around. But the first gift was yellow and hard, with no taste, the second made the donkey sneeze, and when he licked the third, the taste was nasty and bitter.

“What stupid gifts,” said the donkey, disappointed. But as he stood there by the Manger, the baby stretched out his little hand and caught hold of the donkey's ear, clutching it tight as very young babies will.

And than a very odd thing happened. The donkey didn't want to be naughty any more. For the first time in his life he wanted to be good. And
he
wanted to give the baby a gift—but he hadn't anything to give. The baby seemed to like his ear, but the ear was part of
him
—and then another strange idea came to him. Perhaps he could give the baby
himself
…

BOOK: Star over Bethlehem
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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