The Brady twins, Patrick and Katie, are no strangers to “Chime Traveling”—when the bells chime at their church, they are whisked back in time to meet beloved saints and learn valuable lessons. But this time, their travels have landed them in the middle of the most important story of all—the birth of Jesus. Together with the innkeeper Zadok and his mother, the Bradys welcome the child, while remembering some people back home who could use a welcome as well.
“He’s here!” Patrick said over the sound of Nicholas’s bell.
“Shhh!” Katie shushed her twin. She fell on her knees at Mary’s side. Patrick slid in beside Joseph, his mouth wide open in amazement.
“Baby Jesus!” they said in unison.
“Waaaaa!” the baby cried. His red little face crinkled, covered with tiny tears. Joseph held Mary’s hand gently, then wiped her face and offered her a sip of water. Nearby, Zadok’s mother, Tamar, unwound long strips of clean white linen.
“I never imagined that he’d cry so loudly!” Patrick said.
Katie remembered how Hoa Hong had screamed when she was tiny. I guess all babies cry! she thought. The sight of Mary, so far from her own home and bed, holding her newborn made Katie think of the Perez family and their baby. It must be scary to have a new baby and be so far away from home!
Mary accepted the strips of fabric from Tamar and began twisting them around the baby’s little legs and arms, sweeping them up tightly against his body. He made calm, cooing sounds. Mary held him to her chest. Joseph stood by her protectively, smiling at the bundled child.
“He’s the cutest baby ever!” Katie said. Patrick nodded, then stood to shake Joseph’s hand. It seemed like something Dad might do at a time like this.
“Hey, Joseph,” Patrick said, “Nicholas hasn’t been out for a while. Want us to take him for a walk and feed him?”
A few minutes later, Katie and Patrick led the donkey by his tether up into the sheep field. In the distance, they spotted a group of men and boys huddled around a campfire.
“Hey!” Patrick pointed. “Shepherds!”
They hurried toward the crowd. Nicholas followed at a trot, led by his tether rope.
“Hi!” Katie said as the twins and their donkey hurried up to the campfire.
“Who goes there?” one of the older shepherds asked, raising his long, hooked shepherd’s staff as a warning. He glanced at his flock, counting them.
“This is my sister, Katie. And I’m…”
As he was introducing himself, Patrick spotted a young boy sitting close to the fire. At his feet was a “ball” made of long strips of black wool, wound around and around.
“Hey,” Patrick pointed to the ball, “do you play?”
The boy looked confused for a moment. Patrick gestured to the wool-ball, and when the boy nodded and smiled, picked it up, and began dribbling it off his feet, knees, and head.
The boy’s face lit up. He grabbed the ball in midair and ran, dribbling it to the middle of the pasture. Before long, Patrick, Katie, the shepherd boy and half a dozen other shepherds were playing together under the starry sky.
Suddenly, light appeared above them. The field was as bright as midday.
The head shepherd stopped the impromptu game and squinted up at the source of the light. The twins saw the other shepherds fall into a crowd behind their leader, cowering.
Overhead, a massive being hovered in the sky. It was dressed like a warrior, in armor like the old-fashioned knights wore. But the creature they saw was dazzling white and had enormous wings. An angel!
“Don’t be afraid,” the angel’s voice boomed. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”
“It’s Gabriel!” Katie said to Patrick. Between them, Nicholas trembled under the bright light.
Patrick shielded his green eyes. Next to him, the shepherd boy’s eyes were wide with wonder.
“For today,” the booming voice continued, “in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”
“Emmanuel!” Katie whispered. Nearby, the shepherds were beginning to stand up in awe.
“And this will be a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Patrick watched as thousands of bright lights began to fill the midnight sky. Each began as a tiny speck, expanding to reveal more and more hovering angels.
All at once, the angels’ voices rose together. “Glory to God in the highest,” they shouted over and over. “And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!”
Their cries echoed for several minutes. Then the sound ended in an instant. The sky went dark again. Silence rang in the twins’ ears. After a stunned moment, everyone began to look at one another, the angels’ news sinking in.
“Do you want to see the baby?” Patrick asked.
“Let us go!” the head shepherd answered, “to Bethlehem to see what the Lord has made known to us.”
“Follow us!” Patrick said.
“We’ll show you the way!” Katie nodded.
With that, two redheaded twins, a grey donkey, the shepherd boy and his wool ball, several men, and a flock full of sheep ran toward town, beneath the star-filled sky.
Excerpted from The Strangers at the Manger, the fifth book in the Chime Travelers series by Lisa M. Hendey.
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Grace of Yes and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. A gifted Catholic evangelist, Hendey travels nationally and internationally to share her love for Jesus with everyone she meets. Her articles appear in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor.