Erik knocked lightly on Craig’s front door and walked in.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi. How was Christmas dinner with the family?”
“About like always. Lots of food. My sister’s kids running around like maniacs. Everyone asking me when I’m going to get married and have kids. When I’m going to get a better job, a better place to live, some get up and go.”
“Grim,” Craig said. “I just got off work. People sure can be bitchy on Christmas. Want a beer?”
Craig provided each of them with a bottle of beer.
“And,” he said, “I’ve got something else that will put the mellow back into the holiday for both of us.”
“I got a nice little Christmas present in the mail yesterday from my brother.”
“Your brother the big-city cop? What is it?”
Craig opened the refrigerator again and took out a large beef stick.
“Well, yeah, I guess that’s nice.”
“Not the meat.” Craig removed the top quarter of the beef stick and held the lower part toward Erik, who could see that it had been hollowed out.
“What’s in there?”
Craig grinned and took a plastic bag from the hole. “Two huge doobies of most excellent weed. Tommy snagged three of these from a guy on the street. He tried one – says it’s really strong stuff – and sent these here where he knew they would be properly appreciated.”
“You’ve got a good brother, man,” Erik said solemnly.
“Sit,” Craig offered. “Let’s enjoy one.”
They went into the living room where they sat on the carpeted floor and leaned back against the sofa, as they often did to watch TV.
“Merry Christmas, man,” Craig said.
“Merry Christmas,” Erik repeated. “And to your brother, too.”
Craig lit the joint and the two began to enjoy their pot in blissful silence. The occasional nod sufficed to indicate a mutual understanding that this was really good marijuana and life had just gotten better by several orders of magnitude.
It wasn’t long before the music began.
It had started softly, like carolers strolling down the sidewalk. Then it grew, as though the carolers were at the door. Finally, it seemed that a 10,000-person choir stood in the room.
“Glory to God in the highest,” the choir sang. “And on Earth peace among those of good will.”
It was heavenly. The young men had never heard anything so wonderful. No earthly performers were this good, and no playback system on Earth could have reproduced it faithfully.
Erik and Craig continued to smoke.
“Hallelujah!” the choir invisible sang and then offered up a final, prolonged, triumphant “Amen.”
The men sighed.
“Man,” Erik said, “you would not believe the music I just heard in my head.”
“I would, man, I would. I heard it, too.”
“This is amazing weed. I kiss your brother’s badge.”
And an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared before them, and they were mildly interested.
“You know what I’m seeing, man?” Erik asked.
“Yeah. An angel. And not an angel like Connie Preston,” Craig clarified. “You know, one of those church-type angels.”
“Yeah.” Erik thought a moment. “Man, Connie Preston is an angel, though.”
“She is a total angel. So beautiful. So kind.”
“So amazingly built. And, man, when she wears that red silk blouse –”
“Shut up,” the angel said.
The men looked at each other and then eyed the joint critically.
“Man, why would stuff this good turn on us like that?” Erik wondered.
“I dunno. That was harsh.”
“Shut … up,” the angel repeated.
Humans and angel regarded each other.
“Way harsh,” Erik declared.
The angel sighed. “It is impossible for me to get a headache, but between the smoke and your stupidity, we may just achieve a Christmas anti-miracle.”
“Let’s keep going,” Craig suggested. “Maybe we can get the music back.”
“Oh, so you liked the music,” the angel said.
Craig nodded. “Sure. It was good.”
“ ‘Good.’ Mm-hm. That was the Heavenly Host singing its number one hit from the first Christmas.”
“Can we download it?” Erik asked.
The angel stared at him a moment before replying. “No.”
“Oh, too bad.”
The angel looked upward and gestured at the men on the floor. “Them? Really? Okay, fine. Anything you want. It’s your birthday.” The angel looked at Erik and Craig again. “Although a train set is always nice.”
The guys kept taking drags on the joint and evidenced no surprise when the angel folded its legs underneath itself and sat in midair.
“Look,” the angel said sternly. Then it decided to begin again with a gentler approach. “Guys, listen: is this really any way to spend Christmas?”
The guys looked at each other and nodded in unison.
The angel’s shoulders slumped.
“Oh!” Craig said. “But Christmas is about sharing.”
The angel took note of this development.
“I mean,” Craig continued, “I’m sharing with Erik, but I haven’t offered you any. Sorry.” And he held out the doobie for the angel to take and toke.
“Um … thanks, but no thanks,” the angel said. “Very thoughtful, though. Really.”
“Sure. Don’t want to be rude on Christmas.”
“No,” the angel agreed, “that would be bad. Guys, I hate to sound like your parents – who gave you life and raised you in comfortable surroundings and love and care about you – but have you ever thought that there’s more to life than dead-end jobs and getting high?”
Craig frowned. “In today’s economy? With a handful of rich people pulling all the strings? Lawmakers who say they love your boss and then pass laws that hurt people? No. That’s your answer.”
“My boss once said that the poor will always be around. He could also have said that rich people and liars – not a mutually exclusive set – will always be around, too.”
“Yeah, but we’re nobodies,” Craig said. “There’s nothing we can do about anything. No one would listen to us.”
“Think about what my boss went through in his life.”
“What do you mean?” Erik asked.
“Take his birthday,” the angel began. “Born to an unwed teenage girl who was telling people, ‘The Holy Spirit is the father.’ How well do you suppose that went over?”
“Not too good?” Craig suggested.
“Not too good is right. But her fiancé stuck with her and Mary had her baby.”
“ ‘And laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn.’”
“Very good, Erik. And where are mangers found?”
“Umm…” Dredging up the quotation had pretty well drained him.
“In a barn, Erik. A stinking barn, filled with stinking barnyard animals and their food and their waste products.”
Erik looked puzzled.
“The animals crapped in the barn and it reeked.”
“Yeah. And my boss’ crib was the feed trough that the cows were trying to eat from. After that, he grew up dirt poor, and he lived in a country that had been conquered by the Romans. Soldiers all over the place, being as rude and nasty as they cared to be to people who couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Like the cops here,” Erik said. “Oh, except for your brother, man.”
“Nah,” Craig said. “He’s good to me, but you better not look at him crosswise if you’re not related to him. He’ll break you, man.”
“And when he began his ministry,” the angel soldiered on, “he walked everywhere he went and slept outdoors most of the time. Occasionally he could use a cave or someone would invite him into their home, but not often.”
“So he was sort of homeless,” Craig said.
“Right. He often didn’t know where his next meal was coming from or whether the people in the next town would be friendly. But he had an important job, an important message to share, and he did it.”
“Yeah, but that didn’t end so well, huh?” Erik said.
The angel looked a little uncomfortable. “We try not to mention that on his birthday. But even after he was executed, he got a new life and his message spread all around the world.” The angel thought a moment. “He still gets good play and good press, I mean. Two thousand years later people are still quoting him and trying to live up to his ideals of love and peace.”
“That is pretty amazing,” Craig admitted. “But what’s it got to do with us?”
“I’m saying you two could do something to help yourselves and to help other people. That’s what my boss’ story is all about. It’s radical, you know? That a pauper from an occupied country could achieve what he did should be an example to others. You can make a difference if you just work at it. You’ve got it easier than he did, right? Cars. Homes. More money than he had. The Internet.”
“Well … yeah,” Craig said slowly. “But there’s still all the hard work and that bit that you don’t want to talk about on his birthday. Like what happened to Gandhi and King.”
“You have to love other people enough to suffer a little and to risk a lot for them.”
The angel’s words dropped heavily and dispelled some of the boys’ buzz. The moment stretched before the angel continued.
“For what it’s worth, my boss thinks you two could do a lot of good things.”
“Like what?” Craig asked.
The angel shrugged. “He didn’t tell me. People who are called to do something generally figure it out, though. And, you know, not all that many people are called on to be martyrs. Usually you just don’t get invited to certain parties and your opponents say unkind things about you. That already happens, doesn’t it?”
The guys nodded.
“So why not miss parties and hear unkind things about you for a good cause? Why not make life mean something for yourselves and for others?”
Erik and Craig looked at each other again, thinking harder than they had for a long time. Erik turned back to the angel.
“He really thinks we can do good?” he asked quietly.
The angel smiled gently. “I wouldn’t be here if he didn’t. And you wouldn’t have heard that great music. Think of it as your soundtrack for a new part of your lives.”
Erik looked back at Craig. “We’re gonna need help.”
“You’ll get it,” the angel said. “You’ll find it. People will find you.”
“Okay. I’m in.”
“Me, too,” Craig said.
The angel and the men shared a warm moment.
Erik looked at the doobie, presently in his hand.
“Um … maybe we could just finish this and then get started?”
The angel sighed. “There’s that Christmas anti-miracle. Fine. Take the rest of the day off.” The angel unfolded and stood upright. “But tomorrow, get to it!”
“Yes, sir. Or ma’am.”
“Oh,” Erik said, “and tell your boss we said happy birthday.”
“Will do,” the angel said, and disappeared.
“Dude, life just got more complicated,” Craig said.
“Sure did. But maybe it’ll be more interesting.”
Erik took another hit and passed the roach to Craig. After a few minutes, Erik had an idea.
“Maybe if we dress like that angel, you know, people will listen to us … whatever it is we do.”
Craig exhaled and carefully regarded the smoke. “Just finish the doob quietly, man. And then let’s get on that beef stick. I’m getting hungry.”