Once again, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
That’s not because of the weather, thankfully. But with our December sunsets occurring nearly on the heels of lunchtime, it’s easy to spot the bright, colorful Christmas lights around the area. My youngest daughter, Carolyn, and I have a tradition of driving fairly far and wide on Christmas Eve seeking Christmas light displays. (This year should be especially fun, since she recently purchased a 2017 Toyota RAV4.)
It can also be enjoyable to ponder what it might have been like for those who were actually there that first Christmas, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men (magi)… And I love Christmas music, from old-time carols such as “Joy to the World” to more contemporary compositions, including “Joseph’s Song” and “Mary, Did You Know?”
When my children were young some decades ago, I happened on a special Christmas story from a children’s book written in 1957 by David Appel and Merle Hudson. I’d found “Raphael, the Herald Angel” first in a Christmas anthology in the children’s section at the Hoquiam Timberland Library. I checked it out, returned it when it was due — then searched again for years before being able to lay my hands on another copy.
It was Carolyn (a library lover from toddlerhood) who finally found a copy on eBay of the actual book, which includes captivating illustrations by Reisie Lonette. She and my older daughter, Angela, presented it to me as a gift, one of my best ever.
The book envisions what it might have been like from the perspective of the angels who heralded the birth of Jesus Christ.
Much of what we think we know about Christ’s birth isn’t actually found in the Bible. Christmas songs, including carols, have a lot to do with that.
For example, “Angles We Have Heard on High” tells of them “sweetly singing o’re the plains” and the shepherds’ “heavenly song.” Then there’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” though there’s no biblical mention of them having done so. But instead (or possibly in addition to having sung; it doesn’t say they didn’t), an angel spoke to the shepherds to calm their fears and tell them about the birth of the “Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.”
Then, as the Gospel of Luke says, there was a “multitude of the heavenly host (angels) praising God.” It doesn’t say they did that in song, but they may have.
Other possible inaccuracies we sometimes assume include what part of the day Jesus was born, that He didn’t cry when he woke from sleep and that three wise men followed the star.
Nevertheless, the biblical record includes remarkable things that did happen that day/night, such as God loving the world so much He sent His only begotten Son to earth to give eternal life to “whoever believes in Him.”
Back to ‘Raphael’
In my imaginative children’s book, much of which began as a story author Hudson told her grandchildren, Raphael is the choirmaster of Heaven’s Hallelujah Choir, which announces Christ’s birth. But when it appears to him that, except for a few shepherds on a hillside “who seemed sore afraid,” mankind didn’t “get” the message about the God’s gift, he sinks into deep depression, believing he’d failed miserably in his mission.
Though God tells Raphael he’d “done well,” the dejected angel is even more convinced of his failure when the Angel of Death heads on assignment to earth. “There has been a slaughter of innocent children,” and “one of the lesser kings seeks to destroy the Gift,” some other angels tell him.
Sure that he somehow caused God’s “good tidings of great joy” to have been derailed, Raphael withdraws into the Silent Grove, sorrowfully seeking to understand how he’d failed so pitifully at leading his fellow angels in delivering their majestic message.
But after nearly 1900 subsequent Christmases, another angel, Raphael’s friend, Lemuel, goes to the Silent Grove with a message from “Our Father,” commanding them to return to earth that night, on the “anniversary of the journey we made together on the night the Child was born.”
Raphael’s not happy, but he knows he must obey.
“We travel far tonight,” Lemuel tells Raphael. “There is much for you to see.”
“I am ready,” Raphael acquiesces. “I will go with you. Why we are going I cannot understand — but I will go.”
What follows is fun, funny and inspiring — for the angels, as well as the reader. Maybe it’s my second childhood showing, but I make no apologies for likely being the most engrossed reader of the rest of the story, especially the very last of the 55 pages. Even though I already know how it ends.
It appears there are a number of copies (used, I’m sure) through Amazon.com for very nominal prices. But there may be also some available by Interlibrary Loan through any Timberland Library, for anyone wanting a great read.
If you do read it, please let me know how you like it. Merry Christmas!
Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin is a retired reporter, who still contributes to The Vidette. Contact her by emailing the editor at email@example.com.