The Stranger in the Manger

by Wendy Nikel

After what happened to the fellowship hall last spring, you’d think Beverley would have learned to be more careful about whom she invited to church, but as you can see from the current state of the narthex, we have once again had an Incident-with-a-capital-I, and as head of the Martha Society, I’ve again been asked to write an insert for the bulletin to explain.

Yesterday, as you all know, was Christmas Eve, and the women of the Martha Society had all gathered together—save for Bonnie, who was visiting her son and grandkids in Georgia, and Irene, who’d claimed she had a head cold. Regardless, the rest of us had met before the evening service to stuff the children’s Christmas bags with popcorn balls and oranges and trim the wax from the candles and dust the cobwebs off the old wooden manger, while the sweet little lambs from Sunday School practiced the music for their nativity program in the small meeting room adjoining the narthex.

We were just setting out the last of the poinsettias to the sound of “O Little Town” (the real melody, not the Episcopalian one), when Beverley burst in the door, accompanied by a large-eyed being with skin as green as envy, who looked just as shocked to see us as we did to see him, though we certainly weren’t the ones standing there without even so much as swaddling clothes to cover ourselves. For a moment, we all just stared, candy canes and tinsel forgotten, until Betty stepped up and offered our guest a cup of coffee.

As the others were occupied in scrounging up creamer and sugar packets and musing about whether the intergalactic traveler might enjoy a slice of Ginny’s homemade pecan pie, Margie and I pulled Beverley aside to get the whole story.

The creature, she said, had knocked on her door and insisted she take it to her leader. Well, we both agreed then that she’d done the right thing in bringing the poor, searching soul here to meet the LORD. Or if not Him, at least Pastor, who was just out back shoveling the path to the side doors and would certainly have learned in seminary whether the universal atonement of our LORD extended to those born on other planets.

In the meantime, we tried to make him feel at home, for we all know what the book of Leviticus has to say about showing hospitality to aliens, even if the more modern translations use the words “strangers” and “foreigners” instead.

Rhonda still wasn’t thrilled with the idea of inviting him to our Christmas Eve service, especially when he was not wearing a single stitch, but Margie borrowed a shepherd’s brown bathrobe from the box of nativity costumes to wrap around him, and that seemed to settle the matter.

At least, it did until the children started singing “Away in a Manger” (again, the real melody, not the Anglican one), and—while the rest of us were busy debating whether alien life would have been created on the fourth day with the stars or on the sixth day with the rest of the earthly animals—our guest wandered his way toward the meeting room and began to sing.

At first, we didn’t notice what had happened. We assumed that Gladys had misread the key signature again and that the discordant ruckus was just her playing the piano. But as the noise grew louder and the children stopped singing and peered out into the narthex to see what was going on, we all also noticed the blinding light streaming through the stained-glass window.

“It’s the Christmas star!” Rhonda shouted.

“No, it’s the herald angels!” Margie said.

Meanwhile, the alien, standing there before the shepherds and angels and sheep, with one foot smack dab in the manger, trilled louder and louder, higher and higher, surpassing even our most well-trained soprano’s range, as the lights outside whirred and flickered dizzily.

That’s when Pastor showed up—bursting in through the back door—and asked what in heaven’s name was going on here. His frazzled and snow-coated hair must have startled the alien, for he took one look at our dear bedraggled minister and let out a final, piercing screech.

Suddenly, there was a giant crash! and a brilliant beam of light, and next thing we knew, Pastor, the children, and the entire Martha Society were blasted out of the narthex, leaving behind nothing of the alien or the UFO except a gaping hole in the stained-glass window, a half-empty cup of coffee, and a discarded shepherd’s robe.

And that, fellow members of St. Paul’s, is how our narthex got destroyed by a church-shopping extra-terrestrial and why we’re asking you to please use the side doors for today’s Christmas services.

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Nature: Futures, Podcastle, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit

“The Stranger in the Manger” by Wendy Nikel. Copyright © 2019 by Wendy Nikel.

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