In the mysterious season of Advent,
when time turns on its tail,
today’s post precedes yesterday’s
in story, if not in fact.
The tree grew in his mind: a tall straight stem from Jesse, with branches that curled up and out, offering blossom and leaf and fruit. And there, on every branch, the people of Israel were at rest. Solomon leaned back and admired the straight lines of the temple. Ruth and Boaz dangled their feet from a limb and sorted a lapful of grain. David played the harp as the birds sung in unending praise. And there — at the very top– Zechariah saw his own dear Elizabeth, laughing with Mary and tending the buds of the tree.
Zechariah startled, and woke himself with a snort. Strange dream. No sense in it. What was Jesse doing, lying on the ground? But somehow it felt right, the beauty and wonder and joy.
Zechariah rolled over and pulled the blanket up as Ramiel went back to work.
The angel sat in the corner watching the old man. Mustn’t start too soon. Let sleep reclaim him. Ramiel sketched a leaf that tumbled to the ground and fell onto a wide straight road. Zechariah settled down as the road rose before him. Ramiel sketched faster and soon there was a riot of people, dancing towards the temple in anticipation and joy. Ah, Zechariah liked this dream. This made sense to him. And sure enough, as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd, he could see his son – his long awaited child. Zachariah dreamed not of the child who would soon be born, but of a grown man: called from birth to prepare the way of the Lord.
Ramiel drew very carefully now. Zechariah’s hopes were full of the images of the temple — so Ramiel let it be. He drew the gleaming white walls in the distance. He allowed Zechariah to dress his son in finely woven robes. Ramiel adorned the dreamt-of-John with the cloak of righteousness. He filled the path they walked on with amber and gold.
Zechariah watched as the people gathered around his son. Ramiel sketched in a leper, a servant girl, and a sage just to see if Zechariah would notice. Zechariah stirred uneasily, but soon refocused on the majesty of his son. Ramiel flipped his pencil and brushed away some of John’s beauty.
Gabriel stood over Ramiel, watching the drawings unfold. “Finally! You let that little fantasy run on long enough.”
Ramiel looked at him briefly. “Don’t worry — the road will fork up ahead. But he’s had a hard time since you silenced him. He deserves a few minutes of fatherly pride. Besides: Jophiel thinks that if we let him dream, he may give us a song.”
Gabriel looked wary. He hated it when Ramiel and Jophiel got together — there was just too much attention to beauty, and an occasional disregard for truth.
Zechariah went on dreaming. He saw the crowd gather around John as he promised fogiveness and Christ to come. Zechariah sighed in deep satisfaction. Ramiel spotted his cue. He picked up a new lead — softer and darker. He sketched quickly: a landscape of darkness; a covering of cloud. His hand danced back to John’s cloak and he tore a bit off while Zechariah wasn’t looking. He lengthened John’s hair and muddied the crowd. Zechariah walked on, entranced with the thought of his blessed son.
Ramiel sketched out the wilderness, the river, the hard places of human life — and then he went back, and set his hand to the road. The road that led straight to the temple — the road of Zechariah’s dreams. Ramiel looked carefully at it, and admired its beauty. He too wished for glory — wished that the way to God was paved with gold.
He turned to Gabriel and saw the pain in his face. Gabriel more than anyone knew the risk God was taking — the grief that lie ahead.
Ramiel took his sharpest lead and made the road turn. The crowds moved into darkness, into a wilderness of sin. Zechariah felt the shift, and was bewildered: surely this isn’t right. This is not where we are supposed to go.
“That’s enough.” Gabriel said. “Stop there if you want your song.”
Ramiel smiled at Gabriel’s sudden generosity. The truth is, Gabriel preferred glory too.
Ramiel reached for a brush and dipped it in crimson and gold. He scattered light across the wilderness and let the dawn break. Zechariah caught a glimpse of radiance, then woke to Elizabeth’s cry.
Soon, his son would be born.
“Well done.” Gabriel said to Ramiel. “You should get your song. But John won’t be like that, and Zechariah isn’t ready. Have you planned the next dream?”
Ramiel bent down and lifted a scroll from the floor. As it fell open, Gabriel saw locust after shiny locust in spotty-winged splendour.
“Oh yes. I have planned the dream.”
Gabriel bowed and withdrew as Ramiel began to draw the bees.