The little donkey trudged slowly on the rocky path despite the weariness he felt from the many days of travelling. He put one hoof in front of the other as he carefully placed each step to keep the precious burden balanced on his back. His head bobbed up and down in time with his walking as his long, furry ears twitched back and forth catching the early evening sounds.
The weight on the donkey’s back shifted. It was a very young woman named Mary who was pregnant and due to have her baby any time. The young man walking seemingly tirelessly beside the donkey deep in thought was her fiancé, Joseph.
The reason for this untimely journey was because the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census to be taken throughout the whole Roman Empire. Although the Jews did not have to fight as soldiers for the Empire; the Romans still demanded their tax money. Each person had to travel to his own hometown of his ancestors and register. For Joseph, this was the little town of Bethlehem as he was from King David’s line. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Mary who, even though she didn’t complain, was extremely uncomfortable even though the little donkey did his best to keep an even rhythm for his young rider.
They came up to the crest of a hill, and in the evening twilight they could see the fire lights of Bethlehem. Ordinarily the young couple would have been camping by this time, but with being so close to Bethlehem and because of Mary’s condition, Joseph had decided to press on and make it the rest of the way to the town. They stopped momentarily to take in the welcome sight of the village with Joseph resting his hand on top of the little donkey’s neck. As they started down the hill, they saw there were various campfires of the sheepherders spread over the near countryside looking after their sheep for the night.
The little party wound its way down to the town. Once there, Joseph steered the donkey down the main street where they would find the town’s only inn. By this time Mary was almost in distress and felt she could go on no longer; she was glad when they pulled up in front of the inn.
Joseph banged on the village inn door so as to be heard by the innkeeper. The door opened and a man with dark hair and beard listened as Joseph told him of his pressing need for a room especially for Mary who was so very weary and near the time for her baby’s birth. The innkeeper stroked his beard while he looked over the young couple in the light of his dimly lit lantern and understood their plight. He could only explain to them that he had no room; the census had caused an invasion of people and he was absolutely filled up with no rooms left. Mary visibly drooped her shoulders and Joseph felt that someone had just punched him in the stomach.
Suddenly the innkeeper brightened up a little and mentioned to them that they could at stay in his stable which was in a cave built into the hill at the back of the inn which was the best he could do. Joseph gave the innkeeper his thanks and steered the little donkey toward the back of the inn.
The cave was dark and dirty; but at least they’d be out of the weather. He lit the stable lanterns. They shared the stable with a resident cow and a couple of sheep. Joseph gathered what clean hay he could find, and having put a blanket over it; he helped Mary down off the donkey and laid her down in the sweet smelling hay and covered her with a robe. He pulled out a small portion of their meager rations and gave Mary and himself a little something to eat. With his burden gone, the little donkey gratefully sank to his knees near the manger; too tired to eat. Joseph lay down for a rest beside Mary.
In the darkness of the night, the little donkey aroused from dozing to the sound of a newborn baby crying. Now he was hungry, but the hay he was going to eat out of the manger was now being used as a bed for the tiny baby. Where did this little boy came from? His hunger was forgotten as he watched Mary pick up her little son. He was all wrapped up with his soft curls of hair sticking out of the strips of cloths that wound around him which was the custom of their people.
Suddenly in the distance the little donkey heard beautiful singing. Where did that come from? A short while later the little cave was filled with several shepherds that had come in from the countryside. A couple of the shepherds holding their shepherds crooks had little baby lambs laying across their shoulders. As they came in they excitedly told of how an angel had appeared to them while they were looking after their sheep and he said: “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.“ Then they told of how a whole choir of angels joined the first one and that they praised God saying “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” After the angels had gone back up to heaven; the shepherds decided to come into Bethlehem, determined to find this baby that the Lord told them about.
They became very quiet as they gazed on the little baby in the manger. They asked and found out that his name was Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” They knelt down on the floor of the cave and worshipped him as they realized the significance and importance of this little infant. After giving their own blessings to the young couple with their newborn, they returned to their flocks of sheep and told everyone they met on their way about the little child. The cave was quiet once more.
The little donkey was so glad he had a part in this extraordinary event. He dared to reach over to the manger to grab just a little of that hay that was calling to him. A tiny hand landed on his soft nose that was reaching for the hay; and the donkey just knew that this little one was the Messiah that the shepherds had told them about from the angels. He nuzzled the little hand and rested his head on the edge of the manger to be close to Jesus. It was a good place to be.
(The story is based on the nativity account found in Luke 2:1-20)
By Gloria Wessner
Artwork by granddaughter Sydney Peterson