I'm an old and tired donkey now and probably will die any day, but I have a beautiful and fantastic good news story that I must tell you before I leave this world. Let me start at my beginning.
The first thing in my life that I remember was wanting to stand up, real bad! And for a just-born baby donkey that is not easy. It felt great, though, as a soft, warm, furry nose nuzzled me and a slow, firm voice said to me, "Rest awhile my child, you've had a real rough time." I sure was tired; I remember that, and then I fell asleep.
I don't know how long it was, but I finally woke up. I felt better and began to look around my new home. The stable in which I was born was more like a cave with the back wall, a good portion of both side walls, and the roof being sunk into a large hill. Looking around I saw other animals—a yellow cow, two calves, a magnificent mule, an old mare, and three donkeys besides my mother. Everything looked so fascinating that I just had to stand up. Working hard, I soon was standing, and it wasn't long until I was visiting with the other animals.
Later, I heard my mother say to the mare that Sunisa sure was a determined girl. She had called me Sunisa; I remember thinking that Sunisa was a pretty name, and I liked it. I soon discovered something else—I had been given a great gift, the power to understand what was going on around me. This wonderful gift has made my life one fantastic event after another, and it is only natural that I would want to share it with you. Why, just two months after I was born, some amazing things started happening, and I was a part of them. It's hard to believe that I was born at just the right time and in just the right place to witness the greatest event in all of history. I've just got to tell you about it.
Even though I was there, I'm retelling the first part of the story as it was told to me by the cow we called Wolley Woc. She had been around a long time, and she said that I was too young to be able to understand what was happening. Besides, she wanted to be included, so I consented to tell her story exactly as she related it to me.
Wolley Woc and the Stable Intruders:
The Cow's Side of the Nativity
Now, you may think it kind of odd that Sunisa would have trusted a cow to tell part of her story, but it just had to be told right you see. We cows notice more than you might think, and this was a pretty wild time for us stable animals. Since Sunisa said she was going to tell others about that night, and since I am the one in the barn who knows what is going on, she said that I could speak for all of the animals that were there that night.
I'm sure that you must wonder about me a little; doesn't everyone wonder a little about cows? Anyway, I'll tell you something about me. My friends call me Wolley Woc. I'm a large, yellow milk cow with silky ears, and if you ever see me you can recognize me by a fiery red fringe on the end of my long tail. It has been said by many of the bulls around that I'm not hard to look at either, but of course, I wouldn't know about that. I take pride in standing very still when old Apsafar, the owner of the inn and this stable, milks me because that is a part of my job. I also try to teach the two calves in here to eat right and to act grown up. In my time I've been around too. Why, I've had five different owners in my life; some of them had cold hands too, and you have not heard me fuss once.
But on this particular night, I think, we all had something to fuss about! Why, old Gip (Gip is a grouchy, old pig across the fence from my pasture) grunted haughtily to me, "Ms. Woc, if that kind of phenomenon had taken place in my domicile, I would literally have had apoplexy." Gip is known around here to be pretty smart, even though most people don't like him much. I'm not sure what all of those words meant, but I think he thought that I had a pretty good reason to be uptight.
Anyway, on that evening, even before the excitement started, I was not in too good a mood because Apsafar had come to the pasture to get me early, and you know how it is when you have to do something before you are ready to do it. I had worked hard that day trying to eat a lot of grass to make a lot of milk, and you know, I'm not getting any younger. To go along with this frustrating situation our whole stable was full of strange animals even before dark. Every kind of braying donkey was in there that you can imagine. I usually like to doze a little as it is getting dark, but those donkeys were making so much noise that I was frustrated even before the night started. Elum, a large, white mule who has the stall next to me, said something about there being a count in town. Now, I'm not too smart, but I don't think that a count could cause the excitement that happened on that night.
As I said, we were crowded, and I knew what had happened one other time when all of the stalls had filled up—they made me share a stall with Erama, the horse Apsafar rides the six miles to go to the temple or visit his sister in Jerusalem. Now, I don't know how you'd feel about spending the night with an old gray mare, but I didn't appreciate it. Erama has the awful habit of chewing with her mouth open, and she swishes her tail on me all the time, and she takes up more space than she should, and she is always bragging about the good old days, and she does a lot of other things I don't appreciate. It's kind of hard to understand why Apsafar thinks so much of her, but he treats her almost as good as he does Elum who gets the best treatment in the stable. As it turned out, on that night I didn't have to stay with Erama because Apsafar put one of those visiting donkeys in with her. That poor donkey!
Well, with all the commotion I couldn't doze at all, and since I have a nice window in my stall, I just stuck my head out, chewed my cud, and tried not to pay any attention to all those strange animals in the stable. A couple of nights before it had gotten down almost to freezing, but that night it was just cool and perfectly clear. I remember wondering at how unusually light it was all around. I could see the hills outside of town easily, and that I didn't ever remember being able to do at night. I was watching those hills just as it had become dark, and I noticed a bright light on one of them. The thought came to me that there might be a big fire over there. Now I don't like fires. A stable across the road from the stable where I was born caught fire and burned when I was a calf. I remembered shivering at the thought of what might be happening out there on that hillside.
Inside the stable Apsafar brought in another donkey, even though we were completely full. There wasn't any place for him so he had to tie him over by the door, throw some hay around, and just leave him with a sad look on his face. I remember Sunisa braying something comforting to him. That's just like her. She's not like most other donkeys; she's nice like that. I was glad that I had a comfortable stall with a large hay-filled manger in which to spend the night.
As I started to settle down, I took another look out the window, and can you imagine what I saw? There came another donkey, and this one was carrying a fat, young girl. I said to myself, I said, "Double W" (that's what some of my closest friends call me), "I just can't stand another donkey in the stable tonight," but before you knew it, in came Apsafar with that donkey. You have to be a little careful saying you can't stand something because that will probably be just what you get. Sara, Apsafar's sixteen year old daughter who I like very much, came with him and started placing bales of hay in the middle of the stable. And then—and I know you'll have a hard time believing this—that girl and an older man came in too! They sat down on one of those bales of hay and Apsafar talked nice to them, placed a lamp beside them . . . and left! Sara, who was about the same age as the girl, stayed also, and I wasn't very happy about the whole situation.
Normally I can stand quite a lot; remember, I live in a stable. But to have to spend the night with humans was just too much for one evening. It was about then that I got so worked up I just couldn't take anymore, and while I'm a little ashamed of it now, I began to bawl at the top of my lungs. Have you ever heard an angry bawling cow? It's an awesome sound! In a few moments the sad donkey by the door took up the cry and began braying, and then another and another until all the donkeys were braying in unison. Even the old gray mare, Erama, was neighing excitedly. I even think Sunisa entered into the noise a little. I'm not sure what we were doing, but I guess we thought maybe this would show those humans that they were where they didn't belong.
However, they just sat there—the man gently hugging the fat girl and rocking back and forth. I noticed that she seemed to be crying. I couldn't understand that, but it didn't make any difference to us. The noise continued, and even the chickens got into the chorus chucking and cockcrowing and fluttering around the stable. The sound was wonderful and terrible. Outside a pack of dogs started barking under the window. On the little pond the geese were squawking, and an owl in the big oak tree by the window gave wild hoots. Still, the man just sat hugging the softly crying girl, and Sara was rubbing the back of the young girl's hand. I just could not understand what was going on. It was as if they didn't know we animals were even there, let alone be bothered by the noise.
After awhile I guess we all got tired screaming at them, and things quieted down. Our screaming didn't seem to make any difference to them anyway. The man finally blew the lamp out, and I settled down enough to start chewing my cud again thinking that the night would finally begin to be something like normal. Little did I know.
It wasn't one hour later that I heard a cry like a lamb makes when it gets lost from its mother. I could not believe it; on came the light, and Sara was wrapping something in a long cloth. The other girl was now lying down, but she seemed to be feeling better as she smiled up at them. All of us animals were watching as Sara laid the bundle in the young girl's arms. As she did it, I heard the man say, "It's a boy, Mary," and she replied, "I knew, Joseph." I remember saying to myself, "Double W, that can't be a baby," . . . but that's exactly what it was. She was holding a human baby!
Now, of all the types of humans I like babies the best. I even let Sara ride on my back when she was a real young girl, not that I really liked it though. The one born that night was very small, and when the light was just right, I noticed that he had a chubby red face. For some reason, despite myself, I couldn't help but feel nice things about that little baby boy.
I don't think that the baby's mother was very comfortable on the hay as she soon sat up and just smiled down at that baby like maybe something special was occurring. Now, I'm not very smart, I mean, babies are born every day; however, sometimes I just feel for things even though I don't understand at all. That is what happened that night. There was something different about that baby boy. Why, I didn't even fuss when Mary brought him over and softly laid him in my manger! It had a lot of hay in it, and with the warm little blankets around him he appeared to be very cozy. He looked so sweet lying there I leaned over the manger and took a big lick right up his cheek to his ear. He just got real quiet, and I knew he must like to be loved.
I remember thinking that all of the animals now were quiet—very, very quiet. It was almost an eerie feeling. Maybe they were just tired from all the carrying on. Anyway, I listened as Mary started softly singing to the baby, and this made all of us relax. It wasn't so bad having these humans around after all. In fact, I almost went to sleep; maybe I did because the next thing I knew, there was a great racket outside the stable door. Joseph went to the door, and as though we hadn't had enough already, in crowded a group of men carrying long sticks which are used to herd sheep around on the hillsides. I have often seen these sheepherders when they were bringing their helpless sheep into town through my pasture. These men were excited and they started running up to the manger where the baby was and back out the door, then bringing in other people. The place soon became a mess. Humans were everywhere milling around in the crowded stable like an anthill that has just been stomped on. A tired-looking Apsafar came running and stopped over to one side of the manger with a surprised look on his face. I heard him say, "Cousin Joseph! What in the world is going on here?" And Joseph replied, "I don't exactly know, Apsafar, but I think we better leave things alone; these people say an angel told them to come and see our baby—that this is the Christ child!" Now, my tired brain wasn't working real well at that point, and I didn't know what Joseph was talking about, but I do remember the amazed look on Apsafar's face. He just stood there with his mouth open staring down at the baby.
At one time there the stable was so crowded that in order for one short man to see the baby, he had to come into my stall. Roughly shoving me over, he peered excitedly down at the baby. Now, I don't know about you, but most cows I am acquainted with don't really appreciate being pushed around. After all, he was in my stall. So, after he had been there awhile, I slowly moved over, closer and closer . . . and suddenly stepped on his little toe. O the noise he made getting out of my stall. He didn't come back in again either. As I saw him pouting, I said to myself, I said, "Double W, that wasn't very nice, you know." I looked over at Sunisa and she had a frown on her face. That's one of those things for which she didn't approve, I knew. But nobody ever accused a cow of bring nice. We cows have feelings too, and we sometimes use drastic measures to get our way.
Through all of this noise and commotion Mary just sat there looking at our baby with a thoughtful look on her face. She would sometimes pick him up and show him to someone a sheepherder had brought in, but she always carefully returned him to my manger.
After a couple of hours, the excitement of all this wore off for me. I began to get frustrated again. Since Apsafar knows me well, I think he noticed my frustration because he and Joseph started pleading with the sheepherders to leave and go back to their flocks of sheep in the hills. Finally, about daybreak the last of them did leave. I heard them singing and shouting as they came around the side of the stable. They were still making a lot of noise when they went over the rise at the end of my pasture.
I have always had a hard time understanding humans. On this night I think you can easily see that they were impossible. Imagine getting so excited over a new born baby. Why, I've had nine babies, and while they were probably the prettiest babies that you could ever want to see, only Sara came especially to see any of them when they were born. And now, all of this fuss over one small baby boy. It sure was difficult to understand.
I know that you are having a hard time believing all of this, so I'll turn you back over to Sunisa.
That was a bit of a crude way to tell this part of the story, but Wolley Woc insisted that she knew it best, and I'm sure that you understand a lot better than you did about the fantastic things that happened that night. It really did seem that that baby was born to cause commotion.
Fortunately, the next morning Apsafar found a place in the house for the baby, Mary, and Joseph. Oddly enough, and I must be honest with you, I felt a little lonely when the baby was taken from our stable, even though it was kind of nice to have a good night's sleep for awhile.
This next part of this story I can't vouch for myself, and I'm going to tell you the story just as Erama told me. She said not to change it in any way as it happened exactly like this. So, I'll even use her words exactly. You do have to remember that she was a little old at the time and didn't always remember everything very well, so take that into consideration as it is being told, but you'll have to admit, it makes an interesting story.
Erama and the Trip to the Temple
Sunisa wants me ta tell you folks about a most ramarkable trip I took ta the temple over in Jayruslem I guess I musta gone on that trip, oh, a million times with Apsafar and others, but never did it turn out like it did on that day. Mary, who was just a whisp of a thing, rode up on ta my back just a carryin' that new baby—you know, the one that was aborn in Wolley Woc's manger—and Joseph, wal, he just walked aside me. I tried ta move soft and easy because these were real nice folks, you know. Joseph was rough and had muscles all over, and he sure had a powerful deep voice. I remember how nice it was ahavin' him sing ta us as we walked the six miles in ta Jayruslem.
Wal, we went up ta the temple just like always, and Joseph, he tied me ta a tree just outside a the gate. It was a paticlar sunny day, and at that time of the year there warn't much bugs and flies, so I thought mebby I might get a little nap. But, almost a'soon as the three of them went in ta the temple, a long tall feller in a flowin' white robe went past me like mebby the place was about ta close . . . his robe just aflyin'.
Wal, I'm supposin' you cain't imagine about bein' hitched up ta a tree with a lot a ol' donkeys around, but a grey mare does't have much ta do ther, you know, so I watched this here young feller as he was a hurryin' through that gate and on insides. A couple minutes later out he come on ta the porch, that flowin' white robe still a flyin', and now he was a carryin' somethin' in his arms. You guessed it; he was a showin' are baby ta everyone who'd take the time ta look. He was quite a'ways away so I couldn't hear real good, but I did hear him talk right up and say a real strange thing ta one feller. He says, "This is Jesus who is our salvation." And one time he held are baby up high in the air and was a lookin' right up ta the sky and said, "Lord, I'm ready to die because I have seen your salvation." This seemed ta cause a lot a mumblin' by all them ther people on the porch as the man in that white robe finally took the boy back insides. I had hardly had time ta digest all that when out come another person with are kid, an old woman this time, and slowly strolled around the porch. She was just a lookin' down so lovey at him. Who'd a thought that a little rascal like this could a caused such excitement and in the temple of all places.
For some reason this strange activity made me feel kinda young again, and I think that I musta been a little frisky goin' back home that evening because Joseph said with a laugh, "Hold Jesus tight Mary; Erama seems to be feeling her oats." Are baby now had a name; his name was Jesus!
When we all got back, I told everyone about what happened, but I don't think most of them was a believin' me. I want ta thank Sunisa, though, for lettin' me tell you folks this story. I'm not so good at story tellin' as she is.
Didn't Erama do a good job telling her story. She gets real nervous when she has to be in front of people, but she knew that you would want to hear about Jesus going to the temple.
The Friendly Camels from the East
After Erama had that experience at the temple, things got pretty much back to normal for a few months. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph stayed with Apsafar and Sophie, his wife, and their daughter Sara. Throughout the spring and summer Joseph, who was a carpenter, rebuilt and enlarged our stable which had been getting old. I was really happy when the roof over my stall was fixed, because it always leaked on rainy days.
But exciting times were not over, not by a long shot. One evening several months later, I was playing around with my mother as donkeys always do, when a man went running up the road beside the house shouting, "Look everybody, there's a bright light in the sky." I stuck my head out the window, and sure enough a light was shining out of the sky; it seemed to be pointing right at me. I don't know how you might have felt, but for a young donkey this was scary. A chill started at my head, shivered over my back, and right down my tail. Immediately I wondered if this was the beginning of another wild experience; it was!
Not five minutes later our stable door burst open and Apsafar came in leading, now get this, three camels! Apsafar didn't own any camels, and I had never seen one before in my young life, nor had I ever wanted to see one, but there they were as big as life. They even had to duck their heads to get in the door. Fortunately, Joseph had built several new stalls so none of us had to share the way we did that other wild night.
He put one of those beasts in the stall next to mother and me, and I was glad that Apsafar left the door open because camels don't always smell too good. I wanted to be friendly though (young donkeys are just that way), but I wasn't quite sure how to open a conversation with a camel. It isn't every day that you get a shaggy, three times bigger than you, slightly amused-looking camel staring squarely at you. You know how uneasy you feel when you see someone that doesn't look quite like everyone else. That's what camels are like—kind of odd looking. While I was trying to figure out what to say, he stuck his head over the rail into our stall and said pleasantly, "Herro." I don't know what you would have expected, but to have a camel looking squarely in your eyes, appearing so odd you wanted to laugh, and being friendly was certainly not what I expected. My experience is that odd looking things are usually unfriendly; maybe he didn't know or think that he was odd. Well, what could I do? I said "Herro", I mean "Hello" right back. Although I could barely understand him because of his accent, I finally made out that his name was Lee Mac, and that he had carried his master a long way to see a child. Here it was again . . . people anxious to see our little baby Jesus. He said that his master was rich and had brought gifts—gold, perfume, and incense. I didn't know what those things were, but from what I had seen, Joseph and Mary didn't have very much and could sure use some gifts.
During the next few days Lee Mac turned out to be a pretty good friend, odd yes, but a pretty good friend anyway. He didn't move very fast around the pasture making it easy to stay with him, and while he was there, I learned to appreciate him, even though he was quite different from those with whom I was around all the time. He told me all about his country, and said that I should come to visit him some time. Such talk sounded kind of scary, and I wasn't sure that I would want to do that, but we had fun talking about it.
Some days later Lee Mac's master came into the stable and got him and the other camels. They were going home. I was kind of sorry to see them go; you know how it is to have to say goodbye when you have made a good friend. However, it seemed like everyone enjoyed having these men with them because I heard laughter quite often coming from the house. I even heard Apsafar tell them to come back and stay at his house again sometime, but they said that they had come a long way and that they could not leave their study of the sky again. Everyone waved heartily as they left, and I saw Jesus start to toddle after them, but Joseph ran and picked him up before he fell down on the dirt road.
That night after Lee Mac and the others left, a most mysterious thing happened. About an hour before dawn Apsafar came out to the stable and got Elum from his stall. He put the blanket on the mule like he was going to go somewhere, and with it still being dark yet. Then he came over and got me! He led me outside and said to Joseph that I was old enough to take the trip. I was going to go on a trip! I had never been very far away from my mother, and I was a little bit afraid. However, I remember thinking that maybe this was going to be a job for me to do, and it made me feel good, even though I was leaving my mother. Soon, out of the house came Mary carrying Jesus, and Joseph boosted them up on Elum's back. As we were all going out the stable door, I heard Apsafar say to them, "Egypt is a long way to go, but I understand. If it was my child that was going to be killed, I would leave too. God bless you until we see each other again."
We were taking Jesus away! A chill suddenly came over me. Did Apsafar mean that somebody was trying to kill our baby? Who would do such a thing? Surely no one would ever kill a person who could cause the excitement that Jesus did.
I always try to keep my ears open in order to learn things, and over the next few days it came out as to why Jesus was being taken away. Joseph and Mary were taking him to Egypt because a king named Herod wanted to kill him. I can't imagine killing a little baby, but that is what they were saying.
Well, now you know this part of my story. For many of you this will be hard to understand—I know I've had a hard time and I was there—but it was just the beginning of a fantastic life I have had with Jesus.