By Paulo Coelho
According to an old, well-know legend, whose origins are uncertain, a week before Christmas, Michael the Archangel asked his angels to visit Earth; he wanted to know whether everything was ready for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. He sent them out in pairs, always one older angel and one younger one, so that he might obtain a broader picture of what was going on in Christendom.
One of these pairs was allotted Brazil, where they arrived late at night. Since they had nowhere to sleep, the took shelter in one of the great mansions which are to be found in certain parts of Rio de Janeiro.
The owner of the house, a nobleman on the verge of bankruptcy (something which happens to many people in that city, by the way), was a devout Catholic, and quickly recognized the celestial envoys, with their golden halos above their heads. But he was very busy making preparations for a great feast to celebrate Christmas, and didn’t want to disturb the decorations, which were almost all in place, so he asked them to sleep in the cellar.
Although the cards celebrating Christmas always carry illustrations with falling snow, in Brazil the date falls in the middle of summer; so the place where the angels were sent was scorching hot, and the air – which was very humid – was practically unbreathable. They lay down on the hard ground, but before starting their prayers, the older angel noticed a crack in the wall. He stood up and fixed it using divine powers, and returned to his evening prayers. The heat was so great, it was as if they spent the night in hell itself.
They slept terribly, but had to fulfill the mission which had been entrusted to them by God. The following day, they walked about the great city – with its 12 million inhabitants, its beaches and mountains, its contrasts, its beautiful landscapes and miserable neighborhoods. They wrote their reports, and when night began to fall again, they journeyed into the countryside. Still confused by the time difference, they again found themselves with nowhere to sleep.
They knocked on the door of a humble house, and the door was opened by a couple. Since they had never had access to the medieval engravings portraying God’s messengers, they didn’t recognize the two pilgrims – but seeing that they needed shelter, the house was put at their entire disposal. The couple made dinner, introduced the angels to their newborn child, and offered them their own bedroom, apologizing that they were poor, that it was so hot but they hadn’t the money to buy an air conditioning unit.
When they awoke the following day, they found the couple in floods of tears. Their only possession, a cow which gave the family milk, cheese and sustenance, had been found dead in the field. They bid the pilgrims farewell, ashamed that they were unable to offer them breakfast.
As they wandered along the dirt track, the younger angel was filled with rage:
– I cannot understand such behavior! The first man had everything he needed, and nevertheless you helped him. But this poor couple who received us so well, you did nothing to relieve their suffering!
– Things are not what they seem – said the older angel. – When we were in that awful cellar, I noticed there was much gold hidden in the wall of the mansion, left there by a previous owner. The crack was exposing part of the treasure, and I resolved to hide it again, because the owner of the house did not know how to help those in need.
“Yesterday, as we slept in the bed the couple had provided for us, I noticed a third guest had arrived: the angel of death. He had been sent to take the child, but since I have known him for many years, I was able to convince him to take the life of the cow instead.”
“Remember the day which is about the be celebrated: since people value appearances so greatly, no one wanted to take Mary in. But the shepherds protected her, and because of this, they were rewarded and were the first to contemplate the smile of the Savior of the World.”
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