Friday, December 19, 2008

Once Upon a Cold Night Long Ago......

This material is copyrighted,
December 1998
by Betsy Hultin.
It had been a blustery day out in the pastures.
Shenai and the other does had stood with their
backs to the wind all day long, not wanting to go
very far afield. Not much browse this time of year
anyway and Shenai knew her kids would be born
very, very soon.
Agba, the shepard boy, blew his horn and the does
ran, ears flopping, towards him, shoving their noses
in his pockets looking for treats. He rubbed their ears
and looked carefully at each one to make sure no one
was limping or not well. He watched as Shenai slowly
made her way down the slope towards him. She was
his favorite doe. As they made their way into the
welcoming shelter of the barn, the first stars had come
out. And the chill of the night made Shenai shiver.
Agba began the evening feeding and milking. He looked
up at a commotion in the yard on the other side of the
barn. Uncle had had many people coming to him for a
place to stay, there was a counting going on and Agba
had never seen this many people in the streets of
Bethlehem before in his short life. And he had never,
ever seen Uncle have to turn away people from his Inn
before tonight.
All the does munched satisfyingly on the fragrant hay
Agba gave them. To Shenai, he gave a little extra grain
for he too knew her time was near. Her eyes followed
Agba wherever he went and Agba put Shenai in her own
stall, the one all the does who kidded in the barn went
into. Then, he put hay into the manger there and offered
Shenai a bucket of water, which she drank eagerly.
Having finished feeding the does, Agba went to gather up
the cows and milk them too. Brother had put the sheep
into their cote just before Agba had finished milking the
does. It was a game between them to see who would finish
first and sample Mother's cooking. Since Father had died,
the family took in extra boarders at the Inn to help pay for
food and the taxes the counting would surely increase.
Agba always smiled because his does asked so little of
him, but gave him so much in return.
As Agba walked out of the barn towards the Inn, he
noticed a couple entering the yard from the street.
A man and his wife, who was very soon to have her
child. The woman looked very uncomfortable and Agba
offered her some fresh milk from the does as her husband
went inside to speak with Uncle. Uncle came out of the
Inn with a determined look on his face and the man very
close behind him. There was no room.....and then Uncle's
eyes fell upon the woman who was so soon to give birth.
Mother came out of the Inn as well and looked at Uncle
with knowing eyes. She helped the woman off of her
donkey as Uncle spoke carefully to the man. They both
walked into the barn and soon came back out. The man
motioned for his wife to come in the barn and bring all
their belongings. Agba went to Shenai and told her she
would have to give up her place for this woman who
was so tired of carrying herprecious burden. As Agba
led Shenai out of the stall, the woman looked at Shenai
and rubbed her ears. Shenai saw the gentleness and
strength there and knew she and the woman would give
birth on this very night so close together.
A small meal was prepared and Brother brought the food
to the special visitors. The tired woman laid down on the
hay where the man had spread a blanket for her. Shenai
looked through the fence of the pen she had been
returned to where the rest of the does had bedded down
for the night. The woman looked back and closed her eyes
and went to sleep. So did Shenai.

Sometime later, Shenai awoke. Her sides hurt and she
needed to push. Suddenly a bubble popped out, followed
by a pair of little hooves and a nose. A strong push and
her son was born. She set about cleaning him up and he
stood almost immediately. But she needed to push again
and this time, a doe, with ears down to her knees. Shenai
cleaned her and both kids stood to nurse. The other does
wanted to see what was going on, but Shenai was very
protective. She growled at the other does.
Suddenly, Shenai realized that the rest of the does were
not looking at her babies.There was something else
happening in the barn and all the animals were watching.
The light became so bright that all the animals needed to
squint to see just what it was. And where was all the light
coming from?

Suddenly Agba awoke and saw the light in the barn. He
ran out of the house and into the doe pen. The light had
startled him as well and he thought the barn was on fire!
When he saw Shenai's babies he put his arms around her
neck and hugged her as tight as he could. Shenai licked his
face and he laughed.
Agba stood up and looked in the direction of the kidding
pen. The light was so bright, he had to sheild his eyes. He
picked up the little doe and carried her with him to get a
closer look at the wonderous sight in the kidding pen. Agba
became aware that there was more than just the man and
woman in the pen. There were things he simply could not
explain there, men and ladies with what looked like wings!
Dressed in flowing white, glowing garments! And the
singing! He had never heard such beautiful voices in his
life! Then he heard a bleat. It was the little doe, nosing
Agba for milk.
The light began to fade and the singing quieted. And then
he heard a different sound....not a baby goat. He had
heard his Aunt's baby when she was born. That was the
sound! The woman had her baby as well and Agba
wanted to run and get Mother to help, but the woman
just looked at him with a secret smile and motioned for
him to come closer. He looked into the manger where he
had put the hay for Shenai earlier. There was a small baby
there. So small, but so beautiful! And He glowed! The
woman had wrapped him in rags that she had torn from
her under dress. She told Agba that the baby was named
Jesus. Agba knelt beside the manger and touched the
babe's hand with hisfinger, but the babe wasn't interested
in Agba's finger. He was interested in the four footed
creature Agba had put across his neck. The baby coo-ed
and grinned to see the new doe kid. Agba held the little
kid so the baby could see and the baby laughed! The kid
snorted! Everyone was full of joy!
Then suddenly the baby reached up with both arms and
touched the baby doe on each side of her head, right where
the horn buds grow. (And to this very day, that is why
goats have little cow-lick swirls of hair just where their
horns buds are.)
The little doe looked startled and snorted again. Then
everybody laughed. By this time, Mother, Aunt and Uncle
had come in the barn to see what was going on. (Later,
Brother would complain he had slept through it all!)
Mother brought the woman some old clothing which the
woman was very greatful for. Then Mother told Agba it
was time to go in to the house, for the new mother and
her new baby to rest. After all, tomorrow was the counting
and everyone must go.
What Agba didn't know was that many things were going
to happen in the coming days that would help him grow
to be a very wise man when he grew up. Right now, he
just wanted to go to bed. He put the baby doe back into
the pen with Shenai and her brother, then went into the
Inn to his bed, to dream of the beautiful singing men and
Shenai just watched and chewed her cud. She knew that
secret smile the woman had. And she knew the gift that
the baby in the manger brought. And that is why, if you
will go to the barn quietly on Christmas Eve, it is the herd
queen who tells the story of the baby doe and the beautiful
baby child.
And sometimes, not all the time, the does listen even more
closely to see maybe, just maybe the beautiful singing men
and ladies come in the night to sing with the herd queen
before she passes the story to her own daughters.

"And it came to pass in those days, that there was a decree
from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed."
- The Gospel of St. Luke, Chapt. 2, Verse 1 KJV

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Gift of the Old One

By Eunice Day, Washington ME

The young couple had made their usual hurried,
pre-Christmas visit to the little farm where dwelt
their elderly parents with their small herd of
goats. The farm had been named Lone Pine Farm
because of the huge pine which topped the hill behind
the farm, and through the years had become a
talisman to the old man and his wife, and a landmark
in the countryside.

The old folks no longer showed their goats, for the
years had taken their toll, but they sold a little milk,
and a few kids each year, and the goats were their
reason for joy in the morning and contentment at day's

Crossly, as they prepared to leave, the young couple
confronted the old folks. "Why do you not at least dispose
of "The Old One". She is no longer of use to you. It's been
years since you've had either kids or milk from her. You
should cut corners and save where you can. Why do you
keep her anyway?" The old man looked down as his
worn boot scuffed at the barn floor and his arm stole
defensively about the Old One's neck as he drew her to him
and rubbed her gently behind the ears. He replied softly,
"We keep her because of love. Only because of love."

Baffled and irritated, the young folks wished the old man
and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward
the city as darkness stole through the valley.

So it was, that because of the leave-taking, no one noticed
the insulation smouldering on the frayed wires in the old
barn. None saw the first spark fall. None but the "Old One".

In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the
hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a
cry of horror and despair, the old man shouted to his wife
to call for help as he raced to the barn to save their beloved
goats. But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing
heat drove him back. He sank sobbing to the ground,
helpless before the fire's fury.

By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking,
glowing ruins were left, and the old man and his wife.
They thanked those who had come to their aid, and the
old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon
his shoulders as he clumsily dried her tears with a frayed
red bandana. Brokenly he whispered, "We have lost much,
but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas.
Let us, therefore, climb the hill to the old pine where we
have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down
upon our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared."

And so, he took her by the hand and helped her up the
snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back
of his hand. As they stepped over the little knoll at the
crest of the hill, they looked up and gasped in amazement
at the incredible beauty before them. Seemingly, every
glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in
the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pine,
and it was aglow with heavenly candles. And poised on its
top most bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like
spun glass. Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas
tree such as this. Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of
wonder and incredible joy as he pulled his wife forward.
There, beneath the tree, was their Christmas gift.

Bedded down about the "Old One" close to the trunk of the
tree, was the entire herd, safe. At the first hint of smoke,
she had pushed the door ajar with her muzzle and had led
the goats through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never
looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping daintily
through the snow. The kids were frightened and dashed
about. The skittish yearlings looked back at the crackling,
hungry flames, and tucked their tails under them as they
licked their lips and hopped like rabbits. The milkers
pressed uneasily against the "Old One" as she moved
calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now,
she lay among them and gazed at the faces of those she
loved. Her body was brittle with years, but the golden eyes
were filled with devotion as she offered her gift-
Because of love.

Only Because of love.