Mr. Gorby got up from the table. “It was so nice of you to invite Simon and me here for Thanksgiving dinner. I must say that was the best-tasting food we’ve had for a long, long time.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. Gorby!” Mrs. Parks smiled at her guest as she started for the kitchen. “Your son has become sort of a permanent fixture around here, being friends of Tony and Tie Li and all. We wanted to meet his father, too.”
“Well, I can’t tell you how much your two children mean to Simon. It’s not easy for him to relate to people. He looks forward to coming out here as often as he can. It kinda surprises meówhy he and Tony get along so well. Your son is so . . . so smart. What do they have in common?”
Mr. Parks began gathering dishes from the table. “They’re both young, energetic boys. That’s all they need.”
“You’re right,” Mr. Gorby laughed. “Kids.” He became thoughtful. “Simon will be sad to leave.”
“Leave?” Mrs. Parks turned in surprise. “What do you mean? Are you and Simon moving away?”
The man’s face saddened. “Yes. I’ve had a job offer down in Florida. It pays pretty good and is steady work. I’m afraid we’ll be pulling out next month.”
* * * *
“Florida?” Tony looked up from his workbench. “You’re moving away?”
Simon kicked at a piece of paper on the floor. “We just found out yesterday.”
Tie Li sat down in the entrance to Voyager. “Why, Simon? Why you move away?”
“Work. My dad found a good job down there. We’ll be able to rent a house and everythingómaybe even near the beach.” The big boy sat down heavily on a chair. “We leave right before Christmas.”
Tony didn’t know what to say. During the past six months he’d grown to like this big bully named Simon Gorby. Well, maybe “like” wasn’t the right word. He enjoyed tolerating him.
Tie Li stared at the floor for a long time. “I will miss you,” she said simply.
Simon cleared his throat. “I’ll miss you guys too. You’re the best friends I’ve ever had.” He let out a long sigh. “You’re the only friends I’ve ever had.”
The three sat in silence. Tony’s computer hummed quietly on the table beside him.
“Will you look at us,” Tony finally said, trying to sound cheerful. “Aren’t we the happy bunch.” Tony thought for a minute. “Hey, I’ve got Voyager programmed for another trip. How ’bout it? Want to go right now? It’ll be our last journey together. I’ve got to order some parts for my cross-link system. It’ll mean I won’t be able to operate Voyager or a little while. By the time the parts come and I have it back up and running, Simon will be toasting his macho-man body on some beach, trying to impress the girls.”
Simon jumped to his feet. “Yeah, let’s go! Our dads will be watching football games for the rest of the day. We’ll have plenty of time.”
The three excitedly entered Tony’s machine. Soon the workshop glowed with the soft blue light flowing from Voyager. Then, in a flash, they were gone.
Voyager settled on the outskirts of a small town. It was night. A cool wind whistled quietly among the houses and shops lining the streets.
Beyond the buildings, illuminated by the vast expanse of stars hanging motionless overhead, the children could see the dim outlines of gently rolling hills, punctuated by dozens of tiny campfires. The wind carried the scent and sound of sheep.
“It very peaceful here,” Tie Li decided, closing her eyes and letting the wind ruffle her long, dark hair. “It make me want to sleep.”
“No time for sleeping, little sister,” Tony said, motioning for her and Simon to follow. “We’ve something to seeósomething wonderful.”
The children made their way along the silent streets that wound through the heart of the city. Occasionally a door would open, admitting someone into the shadows. Candlelight would spill onto the smooth-worn stones, forming soft yellow patches on the ground.
As they reached the outskirts of town, they heard running feet coming up behind them. Pressing against a wall beside the road, they waited as a group of men and several young boys hurried by. Tony pointed at the tall staffs each held in their hands. “Shepherds,” he whispered. “They know about the baby.”
Tie Li looked up at her brother. “There little baby here?”
“Let’s follow!” Tony set off down the street behind the running figures. “I don’t want to lose sight of them.”
The children trailed behind the group of shepherds, keeping up as best they could. From time to time, one of the men would call out to the others. “The angel said He’d be here. I’m so excited! Just think! We’re about to meet the Messiah!”
The road soon ended in the courtyard of a small inn. A half dozen donkeys, tied up in front of the entrance to the building, watched as the shepherds approached. The men gathered in a semicircle to discuss their next move. “All the innkeepers we talked to said a man and pregnant woman asked for a room. Each told them to go to the next inn. This is the last place they could be.”
One of the group walked up to the front door and knocked. There was no response. He knocked again. A small window opened on the second floor and a man’s face appeared. “What do you want?” he asked gruffly.
“Excuse me, sir. We’re looking for a man and woman who came here earlier this evening.”
“A lot of men and women came here today. Don’t you know about the census?”
“Yes, sir, we do. But this particular man and woman were very special. She was to have a baby tonight. You see, an angeló”
“Oh, yeah,” the man in the window interrupted. “They were here. I sent them to the caves.”
“To the caves? But she’s about toó”
“Hey, I was filled up, all right? Not one room available. I’m only charging them half price. It’s warm and comfortable out there. Besides, it’s not like they’re royalty or something. They’re just working-class people from Nazareth. Big deal! I did what I could do. Good night!”
The shutters slammed shut, leaving the shepherds standing in stunned silence. Their voices shook with emotion as they spoke. “The Messiah is to be born in a place where animals live? This can’t be. He’s our king, and we’ve given Him a barn to be born in!”
A young boy in the group spoke up. “But the angel said we’d find Him lying in a manger, wrapped in strips of cloth.”
“You’re right,” one of the men said. “Those are the words the angel used. I didn’t think he meant a real manger and real cloth. I just figured that meant our Messiah was to be humble, like the prophet Isaiah wrote. Come on, the inn’s animal shelter should be out back. Let’s find it.”
The children followed as the shepherds made their way around the outside of the building. Just as the proprietor had said, there was a small open cave nestled in the cleft of a hill just beyond a fenced-in area. Several donkeys and a flock of sheep lay sleeping around the entrance. A tiny pinpoint of light glowed from the dark recesses of the underground sanctuary.
In silence the men made their way to the opening. There, in the circle of light cast by a single flickering candle, sat a man and woman. Between them, a rough wooden manger overflowed with fresh straw and pieces of old torn and faded cloth.
The couple looked up as the shepherds approached. No one spoke. The man by the manger seemed to realize that these strong, rugged men were not here to harm him or his wife. The shepherds’ eyes didn’t move from the manger as they bent low to enter the cave.
Tony, Tie Li, and Simon slipped in on one side and stood waiting to see what was going to happen.
The young woman reached over and gently lifted a small bundle from the manger. Placing it in her arms, she pulled back the cloth, revealing the peacefully, sleeping face of a baby, barely hours old.
The shepherds fell to their knees, hands clasped in front of them. The woman smiled and spoke in a soft, quiet voice. “His name is Jesus.”
Simon’s breath caught in his throat. He stepped forward, his face filled with surprise and wonder. “There is Baby Jesus,” he said. “I never knew for sure. I just thought it was a made-up story like all the other stuff I hear around the holidays. But He’s real. He’s real.”
Tie Li and Tony walked up beside him. The little girl tilted her head to one side. “Who is that baby?” she asked.
Tony reached down and took hold of his sister’s hand. “That’s God, Tie Li,” he said in a whisper. “That’s the Creator of the world.”
“God?” Tie Li stared at the tiny form sleeping in His mother’s arms. “That God?”
“The Book says He was born on earth to live life as a human being so He’d know what it was like. It says He wanted to show everybody how to live without being hateful to each other, without obeying the voice of Satan.” Tony looked down at his sister. “He wanted to tell us that He loves us, even when we hurt inside, because He hurt inside too.”
“Someone hurt baby?” Tie Li’s voice trembled.
“When He grew up, evil men murdered Him. They nailed Him to a cross, and He died.”
Tears filled the little girl’s eyes. “Why, Tony? Why He die? He God. He has power. He make the world. He help Noah and Moses and Joshua. Why He let men kill Him?”
“I think it had something to do with the promise He made in Eden to Adam and Eve. He said someday evil would be destroyed. Maybe He had to die to help do that.”
Simon turned to Tony. “I remember. You said the Sacrifice-maker would be sacrificed, just like Abel.”
Tony was silent for a minute. “ImagineóGod being born as a human being.”
“How can people worship a dead God? That doesn’t make any sense.” “You’re right,” Tony said. “But I haven’t told you the best part about this baby. The Book says after they killed Him, He rose again, alive and well. He has the power. He became God again.”
Simon studied the sleeping infant. “He’d understand me then, wouldn’t He? He’d know what I was talking about when I told Him how I have troubles sometimes, and how I wish I was different. He knows what it’s like to be a human being.”
Tony nodded. “That’s what this was all about.”
Tie Li stepped closer to the manger. “Baby Jesus,” she whispered, “I Tie Li. Someday I need You to help me. Someday I need You to make me happy again inside. Please remember. I wait for You.”
Slowly the children made their way back through the dark streets to where Voyager stood. Before entering the machine, Tie Li looked back in the direction of the city. She smiled. Looking up at Tony, she spoke quietly in the night. “He’ll come to me. I know He will.”
(To be continued)
1. Why do you think Jesus was born in a lowly manger and not in some mansion?
2. When Simon saw the baby he said, “There s Baby Jesus.” Why do some people doubt the story of Bethlehem?
3. Why did Jesus choose to be born and to live as a human being?
4. Jesus died and then rose again to show us He was more powerful than death. Since He did that, should we be afraid of dying?
5. Do you think God understands when you have problems, when you hurt inside? What should you do when you feel sad or lonely?