It was busy in Bethlehem that night. The census had meant people from far and wide had come to stay in the town. It also meant The Old Star Inn was packed which really annoyed Gary and Bob who preferred a little bit of peace with their pint, and was there a place to sit down after a hard day manger making – there was not.
“It’s busy tonight in Bethlehem” said Bob stating the obvious “What’s a bloke to do to get a seat in this place?”
“It's the census” replied Gary sounding fed up
“It’s senseless this census” said Bob with a grin
“It's incensed us” responded Gary as they clinked their beer glasses and nodded knowingly with a smile. It was the same joke they had told each other for the last two weeks.
Although the bar was noisy an awkward silence fell between them.
“Oh I'm bored” blurted Gary.
Bob, startled at the blurting, as his mind had drifted as had his eyes as he was smiling at a couple of ladies seated not far from him, and wasn’t taking much notice of Gary. Bob simply questioned the statement with “Whot?”.
“I'm Bored” repeated Gary “I've been making mangers for 20 years. 20 years! What am I going to do?”
Bob tried to look interested, for his friends sake but also keeps trying to smile at the ladies, which is becoming difficult to maintain. “Is it that long.’ He says “Tut! Time flies doesn't it.”
“Not really. I'm probably the best manger maker in the country, but what's the point? What is the point!” Gary repeats “All these years I've been in that workshop waiting for God to use me.”
“Use you for what?” Bob turns his attention to Gary. This could be interesting he thinks.
“I dunno! Anythink!” I would do anythink.” Gary looks off into the distance and sips his beer.
“Anythink?” Asks Bob and without waiting for an answer asks, “Yeh but, what if God had called you to do somethink really hard? Like, err, um, like… dig a really deep hole”
“I could do that, although I was expecting something with more meaning.” Gary frowns at the suggestion, “Why dig a hole?”
“I dunno, you said anythink.” Replied Bob, “OK what if he told you to follow a star for 20 years?”
“That’s a long time but I could do it.”
“So you would do something like follow a star, which is a bit odd to be honest, for a long time, if God called you to it?”
Gary thinks about that “Yeh I would. If only I knew what he wanted me to do. Cos, right, it’s like this, if I'd had had the call then VOOM... I would have been off. Instead I've been making mangers for 20 years.” Sounding morose he says “Food troughs for cows.”
“Not just cows,” says Bob trying to be more upbeat for his friend “We do them for bulls, and sheep, and donkeys”
“Yeh, I know” Gary becomes vacant, goes off into a sad dream of what could’ve been.
“And goats,” continues Bob warming to the theme “…and then you get the little baby lambs, and the kids.” Makes a funny face “aww I love them. Oh, what about the ones we’ve made for camels and horses, and then there was that one we made for a giraffe”
Gary realises his friend is still talking and looks up. “Hey, Bob those ladies over there. See em? They look nice.”
Bob pretends to have only just noticed them “ Oh those, Which do you fancy?”
“What do I fancy? I’ll have another pint thanks.”
“Whot! Oh for crying out loud, you get me every time.” Bob downs the rest of his drink and goes to the bar and gets the drinks in.
Gary is left on his own. He sighs, sighs again but bigger this time. Looks at his watch. Looks where Bob went. He sighs and stares into space. “20 years!” he says out loud “20 years of making mangers. I could have been anythink me!” Gary sighs again, blows through teeth and looks up and cries out to God “Why haven't you used me?
At that moment Bob returns and says “You never asked.”
“What?” says Gary
“You never… oh never mind” Biob gives up on the joke “Look, you'll never guess what I have just seen going on out the back in the barn.”
“What?” says Gary again.
“You think it’s busy in here, yeh well it’s really busy out the back there. There’s people and animals all over the place, and in the middle of it all a baby’s been born in a barn.”
“A baby’s been born in the barn?” asks Gary
“That’s whot I said, A baby’s been born in the barn.” Bob repeats “When I was there a whole load of shepherds turned up with more sheep. They were a bit odd if you ask me. Kept going on about an Angel of the Lord telling them to come and see the King. Ivan the Inn Keeper got a bit stressy with em but the mother of the baby is amazingly calm and is in control and just said let them come in. Ivan just did as he was told. Never seen that appen before. Oh, I’ll tell you what they did with baby
“Go on, what have they done with the baby?” Says Gary.
“They’ve only gone and laid him in one of your mangers.”
“Really, Oh that’s, er, thats, thats... TERRIBLE.” Exclaims Gary “A new born baby has been put in one of my dirty old mangers. The poor kid. Is that any way to bring a child into the world.”
“Well, he looked alright to be fair.” Explains Bob “They’ve wrapped him up in fresh swaddling cloths and stuff. Fresh hay in there as well. Ivan said the strange thing was all the animals wouldn’t eat from it. They just kept their distance and stared, without making a sound.”
“What are you talking about.” Gary is starting to get angry “Look they’ve brought a new life into the world and placed him in a manger. No one deserves a start like that. No one. A manger!” Gary shakes his head “I know I will make him a cradle tomorrow I could do it in work. A nice cradle.”
“That is - a great idea,” says Bob “Do you reckon the boss let you have the wood?”
“I didn’t think of that” says Gary “No, probably not... Oh I know, how about...no…or I could... No,” Gary is getting frustrated. “This is annoying. Do you know I never get to do anythink worthwhile or important. I just want to do somethink, anythink, all I want is to serve the King of Kings”
The men who made that manger bare
That was a cradle for Gods son,
Could not have known their rustic skill
Would be renowned and glorious still
When centuries had run.
The manger framed by roughened hands,
Where Christ was laid in shadowed gloom,
A country carpenter had made,
A product of his daily trade,
And never guessed for whom.
So we, who in our daily work
Can fashion great or humble things,
May trust, though how we can not say,
That what we labour at each day
May serve the King of Kings.