A Christmas story to read with the entire family:
Sometime later tonight, sometime after midnight when the anticipation of Christmas Eve turns into the early moments of fulfilled prophecy at Jesus’ birth, it will happen. But it will not happen until all the boys and girls and all the dads and moms have gone to sleep. Then it will happen; tonight, it will happen.
The birds, sleeping nestled in the trees, will notice it first. They will begin to chirp and sing and fly in dancing circles in the sky. Then the horses, cows, pigs, sheep, deer, donkeys, rabbits, elephants, lions, lambs, impalas, wart hogs, tigers, wildebeest, squirrels, and all the other creatures of the earth will awaken and see it. Then dogs and cats inside houses will notice it and stir. Some will awaken their owners who will let them out thinking they need to — well, just go outside, and the owners will go back to sleep. Other dogs and cats will jump on a sofa and look out the window.
What will they see? They will see an animal Christmas. They will see the Spirit of Christmas, God’s love, flowing across the earth, filling the sky with sounds and sights that humans are usually too busy and sometimes too unbelieving too hear and see. The sounds and sights will call the animals together where they will talk.
It’s going to happen here, tonight, on Taylor Street, and other places where dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, deer, and other animals gather. This is the one night of the year when the animals talk.
A long time ago, animals talked all the time. Back then, it was not strange for animals to talk back. But one day, one of the animals, a snake, talked too much. The snake talked about things he should not have talked about. In fact, he let a really bad creature talk through him. It really messed up things; that what’s too much talking can do: really mess up things.
Since then not too many animals have talked. One time God did use a donkey to talk to a man. That’s was an important conversation; that man, who thought he was so smart and so important, had something he had learn from God. Well, God taught him through a donkey. It seems that donkeys . . . let’s hold that thought; we’re getting ahead of the story.
Tonight the animals will get together and talk to one another. It will be more than tails wagging and the sounds of dogs barking, cats meowing, birds chirping, and cows bellowing. It will be animal words that speak of one thing: God’s love for His creation and His plans to save it. Later tonight, up and down my street and wherever you live, the animals will talk about what they did when Jesus was born.
Maybe you’re wondering how I know this. Well, I’m really close to Jack and Jill, the two animals who live here (and their cat friend James, who used to live here). On Christmas Eve they saw me wrapping presents for my wife and children, and to my surprise, Jack said, “You’re getting ready for Christmas, aren’t you?” When Jack saw how amazed I was, he spoke to calm me, “It’s all right, you can talk to me.”
After the shock of hearing Jack speak, I replied, “Yes, I am. But how do you know, and how can you talk to me?”
Jack said, “It’s a secret between God and the animals and I can’t tell you anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because humans are not supposed to know this. You will only mess it up.”
“Tell me more,” I begged. Jack refused. He can be stubborn like that. I decided to try a very human thing; bribe Jack and Jill with dog cookies. Jack took the cookies, but refused to tell me. He then made a mistake; he left the room with me and Jill; she was another dog altogether.
“Jill, tell me about this and I’ll give you another cookie.”
She bit. By the time Jack came back in the room, it was too late. She had already told me enough so that Jack had to fill in the rest of the story. I promised not to tell anyone else except the children. Jack said they only talked to me because they knew no one would believe me if I talked about it. How they could talk at any other time besides early Christmas morning I still do not understand. But then, they are unusual dogs!
This is what they told me.
Once a year, early, early on Christmas morning, long before the sun even thinks about peeking over the horizon, God’s Spirit swings through the sky, calling all the animals to remember their Creator. On this one night all the animals talk the way they used to talk. And they tell this one story.
It’s about a donkey. This donkey is special. This donkey is the one who carried Mary to Bethlehem. Joseph, Mary’s husband, who was a carpenter in the town of Nazareth, had made a small, but beautiful, piece of furniture for a Roman soldier. He was an important soldier in charge of many other soldiers. Sometimes the soldiers would not pay Jewish men who did work for them. But this soldier was so impressed by the tiny carvings of pomegranates, apples, and grapevines that he told Joseph he could have anything he wanted, within reason.
Joseph said, “As you know, I must leave in two weeks for Bethlehem so I can get there in time to register for the Emperor’s census tax. My wife will soon have her Baby, a very special child. Could I select one of your horses so she could ride on this journey? I promise to give the horse to the Roman garrison near Bethlehem.”
The soldier was agreeable; he knew Joseph was an honest and righteous man. He took Joseph to the military stables and they looked at the horses. The problem was that all the horses were too strong. They were trained to run hard, not walk slowly. They wanted sound, action, important people and events so they could show other horses how strong they were. Joseph tried to walk one of them, but it reared up and almost hit him and the soldier. Both men agreed that this would not work.
“Perhaps you could manage a chariot where these horses are more accustomed to being controlled,” said the soldier.
But Joseph said no. He had never driven a chariot and was afraid that a two horse power wreck might really hurt or even kill Mary or the Baby.
Walking out the stables, Joseph saw an old donkey in the corner of the yard. “What about that donkey?” he asked.
“You don’t want that old animal. I’m not even sure it would make it to Bethlehem. Besides, I want you to have the best I can give you.”
“You’re very kind, and I do not mean to be ungrateful, but all I really need is an animal I can manage. I’m not royalty, and I have no reason to try and impress other people.”
“Well,” the soldier said, “if you promise not to tell anyone you got this old donkey from a Roman garrison, you can have it. We were going to destroy it soon anyway, so just keep it and don’t worry about turning it in to the Bethlehem garrison.” The old, weary donkey obediently followed the slight pull of the rope as Joseph led him to their home.
The time soon came for Joseph and Mary to begin the journey. Joseph had fed the donkey and taken time to groom it. In fact, both he and Mary were surprised at how much better the donkey looked. In only two weeks of loving care the donkey was much stronger. Over the next weeks they traveled, and while riding a donkey is not the most comfortable ride, it kept Mary off her feet and made these final days of her pregnancy a little easier.
The night they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph went door to door looking for a place for them to stay. Mary could feel that the Baby would soon be born; much sooner than she imaged, in fact. Riding the donkey had actually shifted the Baby so that He would be born more quickly and easier than she had thought. At times while Joseph was trying to find a room, stray dogs would bark at the donkey and Mary, but the donkey would bray back to them, and the dogs would stop and run away.
There was no room among the ancient family lines of Joseph in Bethlehem. There were just too many people arriving at the same time. At the last place in town, the innkeeper told Joseph there was no more room at his place or any place that he knew in Bethlehem. Leading Joseph to the door, he saw Mary atop the donkey.
“I don’t have a room for you, but seeing your donkey reminds me that there might be room in the stable in the back. It’s a small cave area just this side of the shepherds’ fields. It is part of the house but you’ll have some privacy. If you don’t mind sleeping with the animals, you can at least get out the night air. Roll up some of that hay for your wife. I’ll send some food to you.”
That’s how Mary and Joseph ended up sleeping in the stable. And that’s how Jesus was born in a manger, a small crib that held the straw that animals ate.
Many exciting things happened that night: the shepherds visited and worshipped the newborn King Jesus and angels filled the night sky with praise to God. Later that night after the shepherds had left, Joseph prepared a nice place for Mary to sleep while nursing the Baby. Joseph soon fell asleep, and Mary did too. She held Jesus near her heart, and for awhile He was asleep.
Sometime while Joseph and Mary were asleep, the Baby Jesus woke up and saw the donkey. His eyes and the eyes of the donkey spoke to one another. The Baby Jesus even cooed like a new baby, and the donkey understood what He was saying. The donkey started to bray softly and to his amazement, he was speaking like a human. The other animals in the stable — the sheep, the dog, the cat, and the cow – all started talking very softly. It was the way animals had talked a long time ago. They talked, Jesus cooed, and they all understood one another.
The infant Jesus told the sheep He would take their place and be the sacrifice for every person on the earth. He told the donkey to take care of himself because they were going to need him again for a journey to Egypt before too many months. He told all the other animals His birth meant that all that was lost when the snake talked too much would be regained through Him. He told them that the day would come when all the creation, including the animals, would be restored to God’s original purpose. The animals were filled with joy and praised God.
“Oh, I can’t wait until tomorrow,” said the horse, “to tell everyone what Jesus is going to do for them and us!”
“Yes,” said the cow, the dog, the cat, and the other animals. “This is wonderful news.”
Cooing, Jesus told them, “Not yet. You will not be able to talk like this again, even in the next few minutes. But once a year, if you will listen carefully, you will hear and then see the glory of my love in the sky. Then, for a short time, you will talk to one another. People will have to discover my love in a different way. They will hear and see from one another — not from you. But on that night, all around the world, tell one another that I am coming again to finish what was started here tonight.”
And so it is. Tonight, the animals will again talk and tell the young animals what the sound and sight in the sky means. In the meantime, we can tell others, and remind one another, Jesus is coming back to finish what He started that night.
About the Author
Dr. Doug Beacham is the presiding bishop of the IPHC. He has served in various roles in the church including Georgia Conference Superintendent, executive director of Church Education Ministries, and executive director of World Missions Ministries. You can follow Bishop Beacham on Facebook or Twitter @DougBeacham.