"Many happy returns," said the angel, handing Jesus a birthday card.
Jesus scowled at the card. "Put it on the mantelpiece with all the others," he said.
The angel stared at the mantelpiece that stretched across the room behind Jesus. He was a very new angel and hed never seen the mantelpiece before. It was made of highly polished oak and it receded so far into the distance in each direction that the angel couldnt see an end to it. Like all receding parallel lines, it converged to a point in the distance, and vanished from view. The angel had a vague memory of learning about that in a geometry lesson at school back in the days before he made the transition to angelhood. Uncountable numbers of birthday cards sat neatly to attention all along the mantelpiece, as far as the eye could see. He gulped, and tried to squeeze his own modest card into the crowd, being careful not to knock any of them over. He had a horrible feeling that if he did, all the cards would collapse one after the other, racing off into infinity like a never ending fall of dominoes.
"I hate this time of year," grumbled Jesus. "Every time it rolls around there are more and more angels giving me more and more cards and I have to keep extending the mantelpiece to cope with them all. Its a good job my dad was a carpenter. At least I know how to make a decent mortice and tenon joint."
The angel couldnt resist the temptation. "Wouldnt a concealed dovetail joint be easier? It would look so much nicer as well. Youd never be able to see where one bit ends and the next bit begins."
Jesus scowled. "You might be right," he said, "but Ill never know. I missed that lesson. I went out into the world to start doing my sermon stuff shortly after dad taught me mortice and tenon joints, and I never went back home again. So they are the only kind of joints I know how to do." He gave a humourless laugh. "Lets be thankful for small mercies at least I didnt use nails. Ive always hated nails ever since..." He paused. "Well you know," he finished lamely.
The angel nodded sympathetically.
"I suppose youll be at the party tonight?" asked Jesus grumpily.
"Yes," said the angel. "Im really looking forward to it. Theyre putting on a fish nibble gourmet buffet. Gabriel baked five loaves and Peter went fishing and caught two whitebait. He says that should be more than enough for everyone."
"I dont want to go to the party at all," said Jesus, "but I have to. I really dont like it when all the assembled heavenly hosts sing Happy Birthday to me. Its so embarrassing because most of them cant sing in tune. But the Holy Ghost absolutely loves it. Hes been rehearsing them for ages and if I dont go Hell come round every night and haunt me unmercifully. Its enough to drive a person to drink." Jesus poured water into a glass then he tapped the glass with his forefinger. The liquid turned a deep, dark red. "Falernian," explained Jesus. "I developed a real taste for the Roman vintages, back in the day." He drank deeply and sighed with pleasure. "Thats a nice drop," he said. "It never fails to turn my teeth pink and make me fall over. What more can you ask of a wine?"
"Well, at least that little trick guarantees that youll never run out of wine to drink at the party," said the angel. "You know what they say always look on the bright side of life!"
"Never ending wine is the only thing that makes the party bearable," said Jesus, morosely, "particularly when everybody starts to give me presents."
"Dont you like presents?" asked the angel, whod spent all his wages on a small parcel of frankincense which hed been quite looking forward to presenting to Jesus at the party.
"Gold," moaned Jesus. "Piles and piles of bloody gold, box after box of frankincense resin, and more myrrh than you can shake a stick at. Its all so bloody unimaginative. Why wont anybody give me a train set?"
The angel felt a little shocked at the sacrilege, but then he began to consider the possibilities. If he could get hold of a train set before the party began, it might help him a lot with the advancement of his career. And maybe he should see about selling his frankincense as well. Once the word began to spread about train sets, the bottom was bound to fall out of the frankincense market.
"Ive been helping to decorate the tree," the angel said, suddenly feeling quite bold because Jesus was confiding in him. "I put a star on the top."
"Why?" asked Jesus. "Whats a star got to do with anything?"
"It signifies the star that shone over your birth place," said the angel.
"Thats wrong," said Jesus. "Dad always told me that I was born in a five star hotel. He said he could count the stars through the hole in the roof. They never get that bit right in nativity plays."
"Theres going to be a special nativity play at the party tonight," said the angel, "but dont tell anyone that I told you. I dont want to get into trouble."
"Whats so special about it?" asked Jesus. "They do one every year and its always exactly the same shepherds wash their socks by night all seated round the tub, a bar of Sunlight soap comes down and they begin to scrub. Dead boring if you ask me, though nobody ever does. Youve washed one sock, youve washed them all in my opinion."
"Its special because Im playing the bar of soap," said the angel proudly. "Everybody says Im really good at coming down. Theyve never seen anyone come down better. Im sure youll enjoy it when you see it."
Jesus brightened. "Break a leg!" he said, encouragingly. "Come down hard. Dont worry, Ill heal it for you afterwards. Thats my super power."
"Thanks," said the angel, "I appreciate it. Anyway, it was nice meeting you, but I really should be going now. Ive got a lot of rehearsing to do. Merry Christmas!"
"Bah, humbug!" said Jesus.