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A Christmas Story

Posted December 19th, 2008 at 10:43 AM by Revdyer
Each year, I write a story for our Christmas Eve service. This is this year's.

Can You See What I See? – Of course not!
A Story for Christmas Eve 2008

There is an ancient and venerable legend that on Christmas Eve, at the very stroke of midnight, the animals around the manger where Jesus was born are given the ability to speak in human tongue. For one hour they are allowed to tell the story from their point of view and then they are silent, at least silent of human speech, until the next December 24th. I don’t know if the tradition of the legend is true, but I invite you to believe that it is for at least one of the animals with whom we, in our imaginations, populate the crèche of Jesus.

Call me Seymour. Actually, you need to say it in donkey. “SeeeeeMour.” It rhymes with Eeyore. And it’s a donkey name, a burro name, the name of an ass. That’s me. And you can well guess that the reason I’m talking to you this evening is because I am not just any old donkey. I’m the Christmas donkey. That’s what they call me, anyway, although I don’t think much of the title, myself. I prefer just plain old “Seymour.” But I AM the donkey who carried Miriam to Bethlehem, and I AM the donkey on whose dinner table they put the baby Jesus (you call it a manger, not a dinner table, but then, you don’t eat there…I do). And do I ever have a story for you.

I did not belong to the cabinet-maker named Joseph. I belonged to a business man named Moishe ben Rueben who ran Rueben and Sons’ rental donkeys and chariots. He kept four of us donkeys to rent to people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He used to have two chariots, but one of them broke an axle and the other was wrecked when Moishe’s son Seth was showing off in front of his friends and tried to take a twelve mile an hour curve at thirteen miles an hour. The thrills don’t come from how fast you go, but from how you go fast. Anyway, now there are just us four donkeys, but the sign out front still says “Donkeys and Chariots for rent or lease.” Mostly for rent.

The other donkeys are OK, mostly, but they are not very spiritual. Not that I’m very spiritual, either, except maybe for a donkey. You see, I come from a spiritual family. My greatest ancestor, back over sixty donkey generations, belonged to a famous prophet named Baalam. You might know the story; it’s there in the book of Numbers around about chapter twenty-two through twenty-four, mostly. Baalam the son of Beor could curse people and they’d get sick or scared or something bad would happen to them. Wicked King Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to get rid of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land. He sent messengers to call Baalam to come and to curse the Israelites for him and Baalam set out to see the king, knowing that there would be a dandy fee for him if he did come and curse the Israelites. Baalam was riding his donkey, the one he had had for years and years, and that donkey was my ancestor. As they were going along, an angel of the Lord stood in their path to block Baalam’s way. When great great grand-father saw the angel he stopped dead in his tracks. Baalam threatened him, but he wouldn’t move. Baalam beat him, but he wouldn’t move. Baalam said that if he had a sword he’d cut great grand-father’s head right off, but great grand-father didn’t move. He was as stubborn as a mule. And the whole thing was because donkeys, at least some of us, can see angels when people can’t. And that means me, too. I can see angels, mostly.

I saw my first one when Joseph came to rent me from Moishe. There hadn’t been a lot of angels around until then, maybe not one in a hundred years or so, certainly not one in many generations of donkeys. But that day when Joseph came, there was an angel leaning against the wall as he talked to Moishe. We were wondering which one of us he was going to pick, since we all wanted to go on a trip. It was so much better to be moving along, even carrying a load of bundles, than it was just standing around all day flicking flies off your back with your tail. I thought it might be me that Moishe and Joseph would settle on. I knew that Moishe would like to get me out and working for a bit because sometimes I eat a little bit more than the other donkeys. But I get hungry, mostly. He said that he would save money if he could get me out on the road. He called me a “grass guzzler.” I called myself a “sports utility vehicle.”

So, of course, Joseph did, finally, rent me for the trip, a trip, as it turns out, to Bethlehem. That was fine with me. Although I’d never been to Bethlehem before, I had been to Jerusalem and so I knew the way, mostly. And as he was leading me back to his home, Joseph had no idea that there was an angel following us. I could see him out of the corner of my eye. That’s the best way to see ‘em, you know; out of the farthest corner of your eye. Whenever I looked straight at the angel, he just nodded his head to me and smiled. I raised my eyebrows back at him and wiggled my ears un a friendly manner, but the angel didn’t come over, didn’t scratch behind my ears, didn’t give me anything to eat; he just nodded and smiled and watched from back over there.

Joseph talked to me as we walked. Actually, he was talking to himself, mostly, but he addressed it to me, the way people do. “Well, old donkey, we’re off to Bethlehem in Judea. It is the place where my ancestor David, the great king, came from. It’s my family’s home town and the Romans have ordered that we go thence to be counted and to pay more taxes. I don’t think they know what they are doing. A lot of people are going to have to travel a lot of miles for this census. Moishe is going to make a fortune in the next two months. He’s already charging a lot more than you are worth, you know.” I did NOT know that, in fact I didn’t believe it. I think Moishe could charge just about anything to rent a donkey like me and it would not be a shekel too much. But Joseph didn’t quite agree with that, I guess.

When we got to Joseph’s house, he began to load me up for the trip. It would be a nice three day walk to Bethlehem, I knew. The weather was nice. And as Joseph put a nice blanket over the ratty one that Moishe makes me wear, and tied on only two small bundles and the water bags, I was feeling pretty happy. There’s nothing better than a short trip with a light load. That is just about what donkey heaven is all about; short trips in nice weather with light loads; yep, that’s heaven mostly.

After he finished loading me up I was feeling great. We walked toward the home of Miriam, Joseph’s betrothed. I thought he was going to tell her goodbye for the trip to pay his taxes. Everyone in Nazareth knew that Joseph and Miriam were sweet on each other. She loved him second only to God, and his love for her might even have been stronger than that. So I thought it was natural that he would go to say goodbye to her before heading south. I thought it was sweet of him.

When we got to Miriam’s house I was surprised to see that there was an angel standing by her door too. When I looked at him and wiggled my ears, he just looked at me and nodded his head and smiled one of those angel smiles, the one that says, “We know what’s going on and nobody else does.” Angels can be a little uppity that way, knowing more than other people and all. I sure didn’t know what was going on, except that we were going to Bethlehem on a bright sunny day with a light load to carry. But when Miriam came to the door she was wearing traveling clothes. She was wearing a traveling scarf. She was carrying two bundles of clothes and sort of half dragging a long curved basket, a donkey basket, a heavy donkey basket. And the day got a little less bright for me. I started to add two and two and two and one…two bundles, little ones, from Joseph; two water bags; two big bundles from Miriam, and one great big basket that would fit right over my hips. This was not going to be a light load road trip after all. This was going to be a freight haul, mostly.

The angel who was standing beside Miriam’s door began to laugh in that silent angel way of laughing. It tickled my ears and I blushed, knowing that he was laughing at me. It was as if he could see inside of my head the thoughts I was thinking about the light load and the heavy load. He thought it was funny. I showed him my teeth, but just a little, as you don’t mess with angels even if they are being slightly rude. “Fear not, little brother,” he said to me, “the load you will carry will be the lightest and the most precious in the whole world.” Now that didn’t make much sense to me at the time. Miriam was a nice girl and she wasn’t very big, although I did notice that she was getting big, about to have a foal, I suspected. But I didn’t think Joseph could afford the most precious load in the whole world, being just a cabinet maker and all. I didn’t think there were diamonds in the sacks slung across my shoulders, just workman’s clothes. And the other bundles that he was tying to me, the ones Miriam brought, were neither light nor, as far as I could tell, precious. Angels don’t tell lies, I knew that, but when Miriam herself was lifted up by Joseph and set upon my back, I didn’t think even she was all that precious, and I knew she wasn’t all that light. When Joseph let her settle down both she and I went “Oof.” The three day walk to Bethlehem was already getting longer, as far as I was concerned.

I must have looked woebegone. The angels fell into step behind us, with Joseph leading and Miriam riding and me carrying her and the baggage and all. I was thinking my donkey “this load is too heavy and I’m not going to make it and they are treating me unfairly, no better than a beast of burden” thoughts when one of the angels rested his hand on my flank. “Do not despair, brother,” he said, “this is a journey of faith we are on.” Maybe so, but for me it was mostly not so much a journey of faith as it was a journey of feet.

The trip itself was quite fine, actually. The weather held nice. The roads were busy enough to be interesting, but not crowded. As we got near to Jerusalem there were more and more people on the roads. Some of them looked suspicious. The others looked worried about the suspicious looking ones. But we had not one but two angels with us, so I wasn’t a bit worried. There is no better travel insurance in the world than having two angels with you on the road; and when your luggage is on your own (or your rented) donkey, you don’t have to worry about it ending up in the wrong city.

I thought that we would go into the city. I was looking forward to it, as I have some kin folk there in Jerusalem; some of my wife’s people, mostly. But when we saw the walls of the capital and could even make out the roof line of the great temple and the palace of Herod the king, we turned a little to the right, taking the road straight to Bethlehem, rather than going through the city itself. I was disappointed, since I love the sounds of the city, the smells of the market, even the gleam of the weapons of the Roman soldiers. Jerusalem, they say, is the center of the world, and I believe it. I pouted out my lower lip as we turned east of the city and headed from Bethany straight toward Bethlehem, but the angel that came with us from Miriam’s house said to me, “Don’t worry, brother, you will enter that city carrying the same load many years from now.” It didn’t make much sense to me then, and it didn’t make much difference to me, either. I have to go where they tell me to go, mostly, and I didn’t get to choose Jerusalem, to rest in and to eat well at, since Joseph had decided to push on to Bethlehem, another six miles.

As I said, I had never been to Bethlehem before this. Other than it being the home of king David and his family, I didn’t know anything about the town. I liked the name, though, “House of Bread.” That’s what “beth lehem” means, “House of Bread” and that sounded good to me. I was looking forward to a full manger and fresh water. I was looking forward to a quiet rest, especially since there was another six miles to go, another three hours, almost, of walking for me with Miriam on my back. We walked on and on as the sun started to go down. Once I asked the angels, “Are we there yet?” But they only laughed. So we walked. And we walked. And then we walked some more.

And we almost got lost half way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It is a straight trip and there is only one road that cuts off from that way, a road that runs east to the sea, but don’t you know that when get got to the cross roads, Joseph wanted to take the wrong turn. He stood there at the fork in the road for a long time, scratching his beard, thinking, I guess. Then he pointed exactly the wrong way and said, “It’s this way I think.” Miriam said, “Why don’t you ask someone for directions?” but we all knew that Joseph was not going to do that! She need not have worried, though, as her angel was standing in the road, blocking the wrong way, so I had no choice but to take the right road after all. Joseph tugged and pulled on me to try and get me to go the wrong way, but even a donkey has enough sense not to run over an angel. So finally, after the longest time, Joseph gave up when Miriam said, “Dear, if the donkey wants to go this way,” which was the right way, after all, “maybe we ought to trust it.” And, of course, they should have. In the end they did. But, then, they didn’t have much choice about it. When angels guide your path, it’s best to follow the way they lead.

So we got to the little town of Bethlehem. And it was little. I am told that the town has a population of only six; donkeys, that is. There were, they said, usually about three hundred people living there. But this time it was different. The town was packed. There were people everywhere, and donkeys too, and even a few horses belonging to the Roman officers. It was a wall to city wall crowd. There were even people hanging from the trees. Well, there were three little boys and a little girl sitting in the branches of one sycamore tree, anyway.

We walked down the one street of the town toward a building that I knew must be the inn. My nose had already picked up the lovely scent of fresh hay from behind it and I knew there must be a stable back there. I was looking forward to this house of bread town being a place where I could really get my feedbag filled with barley and oats and wheat and rye, lovely rye, grain. I was impatient. Joseph went into the inn to get us a room for the night. It was dark now and getting cooler quickly. I could feel Miriam shiver as she stood beside me, her arm draped over my back. We both looked up as Joseph came out of the doorway of the inn. He was shaking his head and had the look of a man whose credit card has just been denied.

“There’s no room in the inn.” he told her. I was waiting for her to say, “Didn’t you make a reservation?” but she didn’t. I think she must be a saint or something. Instead, she simply asked, “What are we going to do?”

“I guess we can go back and camp in those fields at the edge of town.” was his suggestion.

“No we can’t.” she answered.

“But there’s no room in the inn.” he repeated.

“There had better be some room somewhere and soon, Joseph, because this baby is coming?”

“Baby? Coming? When?” he said. He looked confused. He looked panicked, in fact.

“Soon.” was all that she said, but she said it in a way that you knew “soon” meant “SOON!” And he, as soon as the color returned to his face, for he had gone as white as a rabbit, turned right around and marched himself back into that inn. You could tell he was determined about it. You might say he was desperate. I’d say he was scared, mostly; and he was.

About this time I noticed that the angels were gone. I wondered where they had disappeared to, but there’s no telling with angels. They go where they want to, when they want to. It’s not like that for a donkey. We go where we’re told when we’re told, well mostly.

Where we went was around to the back of the inn, to the stable that was build right into the side of the hill. It was a kind of a half-cave, but dry and out of the rising wind. With two cows and a horse already inside, the place was warm in the chill of the night. Those cows put out a lot of heat. Smell, too. The angels were there ahead of us. It looked as if they had taken one of the stalls and made it into a palace room. Somehow they had taken the straw and a bench and some other things, ordinary stable things, and turned them into royal furniture. They all looked just the same as always, but there was something about the way these simple things were arranged, something perfect, something fit for a king. Angels can do that. Angel “Feng Shui,” I guess. They can take the simplest house and turn it into a heavenly home; and that is what they did in that old inn’s barn.

The innkeeper was there and his wife. She, he said, was a midwife. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I thought she might be just a half a wife or something, but now I know that “midwife” is just the word for a people vet. She took Miriam into the stall and I was pretty sure that she was going to have her foal in there. It looked like a good place to me.

While that was happening, Joseph got me something to eat. I was thankful to him and to God, as I am every time I eat, which is several times a day. I told you I am spiritual for a donkey. And as I was eating, I noticed that a couple of more angels had shown up, standing guard, almost, around the stall where Miriam was with the innkeeper’s wife. Then I saw a couple of more at the door of the barn. Then there were some more out in the courtyard. Pretty soon there were angels all over the place. No one else could see them, but I could.

When angels talk to each other it sounds almost like music, but silent. It sounds like silent bells ringing or silent children singing. It is beautiful, and these angels were weaving a tapestry of sound, silent sound, around the whole stable. Then, suddenly, there was real silence. It was the quietest I have ever heard; or not heard, really. It was sooooo quiet, hushed. Then, then softly, there was a cry, a baby’s cry, from the stall where the new mother was, and it was as if the whole world released a sigh of relief. At that the angels all began to sing, not in their silent language, but in song so bright and pure that the ears and the mind couldn’t grasp it all. It was a hymn to God. It was a song of promise to the world. It was joy and peace and happiness. It was a mighty anthem of victory over darkness and wickedness and death that they sang. My ears still shiver when I think about that song.

About then a rowdy group of shepherds came in shouting about a baby king and about angels singing in the sky. Well, duh, didn’t they know there had been angels around all day long? But they were shepherds and they can’t usually see angels the way we donkeys can. If I’d asked them, “Do you see what I see?” they would have to say, “Uh, no. What?” But not this time. This time everyone could see the angels and hear their song.

Then they went and put the baby in my manger. I was going to complain in my best donkey complaint voice (that’s the one you do not want to hear), until I looked at the little colt. He was beautiful. He was the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. To my eyes, human babies are mostly pretty ugly things. They’re a funny color and they can’t stand up the way a real foal can. They look like they haven’t been cooked long enough or something, all wrinkles and squishy without any hair on them much at all, certainly without a fine coat such as a donkey foal has when its born. But this one was different. This one was done just right. This one was perfect, and the angels whispered his name: “Jesus.”

Before long, some longbeards from some foreign place arrived too. They said they were following a star and looking for the new king, or maybe that they were from the king and looking for a new star. They had camels. Camels are proud animals and when I tried to talk to one of them, he told me he was a “Land Rover.” He said it in such as way as to say, “And you are just a rental donkey.” I took to calling him “Rover” for the rest of their visit. Another said he was a potentate. I called him “Tater.” The men brought gifts to the baby. They bowed down and called him “Your majesty” and “King Jesus.” I would have been more impressed, or, at least more pleased, if they had not brought the camels along with them. I guess I was impressed anyway.

They had angels with them too. In truth, there in that stable and out in the courtyard and all over the hilltops there were more angels that anyone had ever seen before. It was like when old Elijah saw the army of the Lord, the heavenly host of angel protectors. Up until then angels had been rare. Sometimes God would send one or two on a mission. Once in a while an angel would deliver a message or even lead an army. But now there were more angels around than ever. More than anyone could count, and they were all over the place.

The people couldn’t see them, but I could. Maybe the peole felt their presence. I think they felt warm and content and secure. I think they vibrated with the joy of the angels. I think so. But they couldn’t see them, and there were angels just everywhere. Even when things settled down. Even when the baby was cleaned up and wrapped up and fed and put down in the manger to sleep, there were angels here and angels there and angels mostly everywhere. I liked it.

And you know, ever since, and it’s been years and years now; ever since that baby was born in Bethlehem, ever since that Jesus baby, that Christ the king baby, that Prince of Peace baby was born, ever since, there have been a lot more angels around this world of ours. Maybe there always will be. I hope so, in the name of baby Jesus, I hope so. And I hope that you will see them once in a while, maybe on Christmas Eve, because they are here now. They are here now. Angels all around the baby Jesus and angels all around you.

Merry Christmas!

And to God alone be the glory. Amen.
Total Comments 15


Cavalier's Avatar

Thank you for sharing this. It is a beautiful tale that is full of the wonder and joy that should accompany the celebration of His birth.

With your permission, I would love to share this with my extended family this Christmas season.
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 11:43 AM by Cavalier Cavalier is offline
Pumpkin_King's Avatar

That was beautiful, Rev.
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 11:45 AM by Pumpkin_King Pumpkin_King is offline
Nooblar's Avatar
Amen and amen! Great story, Rev!
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 12:03 PM by Nooblar Nooblar is offline
davidlhsl's Avatar
Especially in times such as these, it's nice to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. Thanks for such an eloquent message, and toss Seymour a bale of hay for me.
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 12:09 PM by davidlhsl davidlhsl is offline
Revdyer's Avatar
As long as attribution is given, please feel free to share this with anyone.

"Written by the Reverend Doctor David H. Dyer, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, Arkansas." <grin>
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 12:15 PM by Revdyer Revdyer is offline
Cavalier's Avatar
As long as attribution is given, please feel free to share this with anyone.

"Written by the Reverend Doctor David H. Dyer, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, Arkansas." <grin>
Wouldn't dream of anything less.
Posted December 19th, 2008 at 12:20 PM by Cavalier Cavalier is offline
LilNewbie's Avatar
An excellent recounting from an interesting perspective, Rev!!

Posted December 19th, 2008 at 08:00 PM by LilNewbie LilNewbie is offline
rym's Avatar
Simply excellent, Reverend Dyer. Simply excellent.
Posted December 20th, 2008 at 04:06 PM by rym rym is offline
gorthan313's Avatar
That was truly a great literary composition, Reverend.
Posted December 20th, 2008 at 04:23 PM by gorthan313 gorthan313 is offline
I love the two last sentences. Thanks for sharing, Rev.
Posted December 21st, 2008 at 01:01 PM by ABOMINATION ABOMINATION is offline
ricksta2232's Avatar
I will be sharing this with my dear ones as well this Christmas season. It will be passed around the likes of Westbury Baptist in Houston, Texas. With credit to you of course!
Posted December 22nd, 2008 at 01:37 PM by ricksta2232 ricksta2232 is offline
Bolo's Avatar
Thanks Rev for the heart warming story.
Posted December 23rd, 2008 at 01:06 PM by Bolo Bolo is offline
Jandarforever's Avatar
Wonderful story Rev! It was beautifully written with just the right amount of humor. Every time I read the name "Jesus", I could not help but smile and feel warm inside because in our culture today, "Jesus" is a name that is not heard to often.
Posted December 24th, 2008 at 01:59 AM by Jandarforever Jandarforever is offline
whitestuff's Avatar
"I called him Tater..."

Nice work Rev...
Posted December 26th, 2008 at 10:27 AM by whitestuff whitestuff is offline
Flavius Maximus's Avatar
Very nice. Very creative. Good job Rev.
Posted February 6th, 2009 at 05:18 PM by Flavius Maximus Flavius Maximus is offline
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