There was no snow outside, but inside the packed hall Christmas decorations swayed, twinkled and sparkled. Paper chains, made by year four, festooned the walls and two giant silver foil angels blew their trumpets, one on each side of the stage. Eric was sitting in the middle of the third row, happily sucking a humbug. To his left his wife, Jenny, and teenage daughter, Gemma, were chatting, and on his right, his brother and sister-in-law sat expectantly.
The lights dimmed, the audience hushed and the curtains drew back to reveal Eric’s niece, Holly, standing demurely centre stage, in an azure blue dress. Eric could almost feel the approval radiating from her parents. Without warning, thunder crashed and a lightning flash lit up a towering figure stage right. The audience gasped collectively and two children in the front row fell off their seats. Holly piped up in her little girl’s voice: “Oh, you made me jump.”
After the nervous laughter had died away, the angel Gabriel (aka Mr Williams, Deputy Headmaster, in a long gold robe) addressed her in a booming voice: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God…”
As the familiar speech unfolded, Eric closed his eyes to better appreciate its message. The stage faded from his mind’s eye and, oddly, the angel seemed to be speaking to him. “Eric, the Lord has commanded me to take you from this place; I have much to show you.” At the same time he found himself rising above the audience, through the ceiling and way up into the moonlit night.
“Don’t be afraid.” said the angel, “I’ve got you.”
“Yes, but who’s got you?” Eric squeaked.
“Be still, Eric. God holds all creation in his hand.”
At the angel’s words, Eric relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. Faster than a jet, but more peacefully than a glider, they flew high above the English countryside and across the silver ribbon of the Channel far below. On, on, over the plains of Europe, the snowy Alps and the glistening Mediterranean Sea they raced, reaching at last the vast Sahara. Slowing and descending they passed the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx crouching by the shining Nile.
At last, they spiralled down into a Cairo suburb, alighting in an upper room. A low bed lay along one wall and a child’s cot rested in a corner. By the door a young woman sat with her arms on a table, lips moving, head bowed. “What’s she saying?” whispered Eric.
“This is Mariam and she is praying that her husband, Yusuf, will be returned safely to her in the morning,” answered the angel. Eric looked at the tiny baby in the cot. “That’s not …?”
“No, the little one is not the Son of God, though the Father loves her as much as he loves his own firstborn. She and her family are in danger; this is why you and your family must pray for them. But first I have more to show you.”
Silently they rose once again, gliding gracefully over the roof tops, and coming to rest a few streets away at a solid stone building. “This is where Mariam and Yusuf and their community worship the Son. But they face much opposition from those who do not yet know Him. Tonight, Yusuf is on guard duty and he will need courage and protection. Look to the south, Eric.”
Eric turned as commanded and saw a sandstorm blowing in from the desert, growing until it blocked out the light of the stars. Through the streets it swept and vented its fury on the little church. The doors blew in and choking gritty winds scoured the sheltering worshippers within. “Pray, Eric. You and your family are called to pray for all in this house of God. A persecution is coming and it is the Father’s will that none should perish tonight. Pray, Eric, pray.”
Eric’s eyes opened with a start. Somehow Holly was cradling a baby next to a boy in a stripy dressing gown. She was surrounded by bleating sheep and shepherds with crooks, and wise men with gifts, all adoring the child. Mr Williams was beaming and everyone was applauding. Holly’s parents had tears in their eyes and Jenny and even Gemma were gooey-eyed.
In the car, in the school car park, Jenny asked “How could you fall asleep?”
“Come on Dad, let’s go.” said Gemma.
But Eric clung to the steering wheel and stubbornly told them his story. He ended with “You have to believe me. It was real. We have to pray, right now.”
“Well if you say so dear.” said Jenny. “Heavenly Father, your great love reached out to everyone that first Christmas. Let peace and goodwill overcome hate and violence tonight. Keep those dear people safe.”
Eric prayed “Our Father, let your will be done. Please send angels now to protect Yusuf and his family and everyone at the church. Don’t let anyone die.”
Gemma joined in. “God, you know what Dad is like, but sometimes he does get things right so here goes. Lord Jesus, keep Mariam and Yusuf and their baby safe. You said: ‘Peace, be still,’ and the storm stopped. Please say it again now. Please stop the storm.”
A deep peace flooded the car. Together they said “Amen”. Eric relaxed his grip, started the engine and drove home slowly.
At breakfast next morning, Gemma rushed into the kitchen waving her phone. “Dad, listen to this: ‘Associated Press report, 23rd December 2017 – Hundreds of demonstrators stormed a church, destroying its contents and assaulting worshipers in the district of Giza, Cairo on Friday night. Three people were injured and treated in a local hospital but there were no fatalities.’ It really happened! Mum, we prayed and God stopped it!”
Jenny looked across at Eric munching his toast and marmalade and smiled. “Wonders will never cease.” she said.
©Peter Hendra April 2018