The Holiest Night of All
I can always tell when it’s getting close. The happiest time of the year, that is.
And it always seems to start with the tree.
But I guess I need to begin my story where all stories begin, and that’s at the beginning.
Hi! My name is Jake, and I’m a little black dog with a white furry bottom.
I’m the little pig dog. My Mama first called me that after her and Daddy found me alone and starving in a field. I tried to bark and say hello, but all that came out was a grunt like a pig.
Mama and Daddy adopted me and took me in to live with them in their little gray house. They named me Jake, and that is where I learned about the happiest time of the year.
And like I said, it all started with a tree.
I had been living in my new home for a while, and a lot had happened since I was found in the field. Mama and Daddy had taken me to see Dr. Ann and she found out that I was very sick.
After I had gotten better and was able to go outside, I met a little possum who lived under a branch pile. His name was Marvin and we became the very best of friends.
The days began to get shorter and colder, and I wasn’t allowed to stay outside as much.
I was lying by Dad’s chair and he was scratching behind my ears when Mom first said something about the tree.
“What are we going to do about a tree this year, now that we have Jake? Do you think that he will bother it in the house?”
“No,” said Dad. “Jake’s a good boy.” He patted my head while he scratched my ears. “We’ve got to have a tree! And besides, I don’t think he’ll go near it once the presents are around it.”
A tree? Why would anyone need a tree in the house? There were plenty of good trees outside. That’s where trees belong.
And what were “presents”?
It wasn’t long before my questions were answered.
Mom and Dad waited until a day when Brother was off from work, and then they all went and got in the big black truck but left me inside the house.
“No Jake, you stay here” Mama said. “We’ll be right back.” And then they left. I sat and looked out the window. I wished they would come home soon.
I didn’t like to be alone.
It wasn’t long before they pulled up in the driveway, and in the back of the truck was a big green tree.
I started hopping and jumping as they opened the door. I was so excited that they were back home!
“C’mon Jake,” Mama said. “You stay outside now while Dad and Brother bring in the tree. I’ll let you back inside when we get ready to decorate it.”
I kept jumping and barking while Dad and Brother took the tree inside the house. And then they closed the door and left me outside.
I was so confused.
Why did they need a tree inside the house? And what did Mama mean by “decorate”?
I had to go find Marvin. He was older than I was and maybe he knew.
I ran around to the branch pile where Marvin lived. “Hey Marvin,” I said. “Are you in there?”
I saw a little pink nose poke out between the branches and two shiny black eyes inside.
“Hi Jake!” replied Marvin. “I was just about to take a nap. What’s going on?”
“My family just brought a tree home and took it in the house,” I said. “What’s that all about?”
“Oh, it must be Christmas time again!” said Marvin.
“What’s Christmas?” I asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” replied Marvin.
“All I know is that when it’s over they put the old trees outside by the street and all the garbage cans are full of paper and boxes and ribbons.”
“I find the best stuff looking through all of it before the garbage truck comes.”
The back door opened and Mama came outside. “C’mon Jake,” she said. “Come help Mama get the Christmas boxes out of the storage shed. Then we can go inside and decorate the tree.”
Marvin pulled his nose back inside the branch pile to hide from Mom.
“I’ve got to go,” I said. “But if I find out any more about Christmas, I’ll let you know.”
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” said Marvin. “Everybody’s real happy during Christmas. It’s the happiest time of the year.”
Christmas Eve and Christmas morning finally came, and afterwards I couldn’t wait to tell Marvin everything I had learned.
When the presents had all been opened and everyone was looking at their new gifts, I ran out to Marvin’s branch pile.
I told him about decorating the Christmas tree, and putting presents under the tree, and everyone eating Christmas cookies while I ate dog biscuits.
And I told him about waking up and opening the Christmas presents and about all the new toys I got.
I told him that Christmas must have something to do with the Creator and a Holy night that happened a long time ago.
Everyone had prayed the night before and thanked God for Christmas and a “savior” He had sent into the world.
That’s how I first found out about Christmas. That was a year ago, and now it seemed that it was almost Christmas time again!
The days were getting shorter and the nights were getting longer. It had turned colder and Mama began to bake every day.
She always baked a lot just before Christmas and there were good smells coming from the kitchen all the time.
I had guessed right about it almost being Christmas!
Brother’s day off from work came and they all left in the truck but I stayed home. It wasn’t long before they came back and there was the pretty green Christmas tree lying in the back.
I knew what to do this time. I stayed outside and played while they got the tree set up in the living room.
It wasn’t long before Mama went and got the Christmas boxes out of the storage shed.
I followed her back inside the house and we began to decorate the tree. Everyone was laughing and singing Christmas songs.
I sniffed inside the boxes and papers while Mom showed me all the colored balls and ornaments.
Dad and Brother wrapped the Christmas lights around the tree and when Dad turned them on they all lit up with bright colors.
Everyone went “Ahh” when they began to twinkle off and on.
The shiny ornaments were hung on the tree and there was even one that had “Jake” written on it.
When everyone was through they all talked about how pretty the tree was this year. Then everybody brought out the presents that had been hidden and placed them under the tree.
Everyone looked at how pretty their presents were wrapped and Brother even shook his and tried to guess what was inside.
Mom showed me my presents and I smelled them, but all I could smell was new plastic and rubber. Mom brought out the Christmas cookies and dog bones.
I had never seen my family so happy!
Then Dad said we were going to do something different this year. He turned on the radio and found a station playing Christmas carols.
He turned it down low, got his Bible from beside his chair, and he began to read.
He said that he was going to read the Christmas story.
I lay down beside Dad’s big brown chair and finished eating my dog biscuit, and Dad began to read.
I remember hearing him read about a man named Caesar, and taxes, and another man named Joseph with his wife Mary who was going to have a baby. And I began to get very sleepy.
And then I must have fallen asleep because that’s all I could remember.
I felt something cold falling on my nose and eyelashes and it was waking me up.
“I must be dreaming.” I thought. “I’m in my warm house with my family.” I barely opened my eyes so I could peep out without really having to be awake.
But all I saw was darkness, and it was cold.
I opened my eyes wide and sat up quickly. I was out in the field and under the cedar tree where my parents had first found me.
It was beginning to snow and it was melting as it landed on my face and fur.
This couldn’t be! How did I get out here?
I looked for the little gray house but it wasn’t there!
Marvin’s branch pile was gone, the fences were gone, even the cow pasture next to our field was gone. There were only fields and hills and some lights moving far in the distance.
Something terrible must have happened while I was asleep. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that I had to find my family. They needed me and I needed them.
The snow began to stop falling, the clouds drifted away, and the stars started to twinkle in the night sky.
The faraway lights were clearer now. Maybe that was my family and I had gotten lost somehow. I began to run through the fields toward the lights.
I ran as far as I could until I was out of breath and couldn’t run any further. I had to slow down and walk but I kept heading toward the lights that I had seen.
I went through fields and up and down hills for what seemed like hours.
I finally came to the top of a hill and down below I saw the lights that I had been following. There was a narrow dirt road and some people were traveling on it.
The lights that I had seen were lanterns they were carrying.
Maybe this was my family! With all the strength I had left I ran towards the group of travelers, but I slowed down as I got closer. No one looked familiar.
I was thirsty, and hungry, and tired. I thought maybe there was someone here who could help me.
I came closer to a man and woman who were traveling at the back of the group. The woman was riding a donkey that the man was leading.
They must have heard me panting as I walked up behind. They both turned to look at me and the man held up the lantern to see me in the dark.
I had never felt or seen such kindness in anyone’s face as I saw in theirs. Not even my Mom and Dad.
“Look Mary,” said the man. “It’s a little black dog.”
“Oh Joseph, he looks so tired and thirsty,” the lady replied. “Pour him out some water in a cup and break off a piece of bread so he can eat.”
I sat and watched as the man stopped the donkey, poured out the water, and took some bread out of a sack. He knelt down and held the bread out toward me.
“Here boy,” he said. “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Come here boy, we won’t hurt you.”
I felt safe with these people, just like with Mom and Dad. I wagged my tail as I walked up slowly and took the bread out of the man’s hand.
As I gobbled down the bread and drank the water, I tried to say “thank you” but all that came out was a weak “grunt”.
“Oh listen, Joseph” replied the lady. “He grunts just like a little pig. How sweet! And look how hungry he is. He must have traveled a long way.”
The man reached out and gently patted my head.
“How about it, boy? Have you come a long way? We’ve traveled a long way, too. Are you lost? Are you looking for someone?”
I tried to explain about my family and the strange things that had happened, but all that came out were more grunts and oinks.
The lady smiled softly. “We’re going to a little town not far from here. Why don’t you come with us? Maybe there you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
Joseph picked up the cup and placed it back in their bag. He held up the lantern and they started walking back down the little road.
I followed close behind. Maybe my family was in this little town Mary spoke of.
Maybe all of my questions would be answered there.
It wasn’t long before we began to see the lights of a small town up on a hill. I had heard Mary and Joseph talking as we travelled and they said the name of the town was Bethlehem.
As we got closer, we saw that many other people were traveling there also.
We came into the town and the streets were crowded with people.
I tried to look at everyone’s face to see if anyone seemed familiar or was my family. But everyone was a stranger.
I even looked down the alleys to see if Marvin was digging in the trash.
There were donkeys and sheep and cows in the streets, and even some other dogs, but no one wanted to stop and talk to me. Everyone seemed in such a hurry to get someplace.
Joseph stopped at different houses along the street and asked if they had any room for him and Mary to spend the night. Each one said no but they suggested other places to go and try.
We walked up and down what seemed like every street but no one had any room for us to stay.
Finally, a man told Joseph of a place near the town wall that had rooms for rent called an “Inn” and for him to try there.
We found the Inn and Joseph went inside to talk to the man while I sat by the door with Mary.
The man said that the Inn was full and there were no rooms anywhere in town because of all the people that had come to pay their taxes.
Joseph said that he had to find someplace because his wife was about to have a baby.
“So that’s why Mary rode on the donkey and didn’t walk,” I thought. “She’s going to have a baby.”
The man stepped outside and looked at Mary.
“I have a stable in the back,” He said.
“If you don’t mind the animal smells you’re welcome to stay there. There’s some hay that you can use for a bed, and I’ll bring you both out a good hot meal. I wish I could do more.”
“Thank you,” said Joseph. “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.”
We went around to the stable where Joseph helped Mary off the donkey. He helped her inside and made her a bed of straw.
There were other animals in the stable and just outside there was even a mama pig and her piglets.
“Maybe now I can get some answers,” I thought.
“Excuse me ma’am,” I said to Mrs. Pig. “My name is Jake and I have lost my family. I wonder if perhaps you’ve seen them.”
“I do declare,” said Mrs. Pig. “I believe you’re the first dog that I’ve ever heard grunt our language. There have been a lot of people by here tonight. Maybe I have seen them.”
“What do they look like?”
“Well,” I said. “My daddy is big and round, my brother is very tall and quiet, and my mother has silver hair and a face like an angel.”
“No. I don’t believe that I have seen anyone like that,” said Mrs. Pig. “But the town is full of people tonight. They’re probably here somewhere.”
“I don’t believe so,” I said. “I think that I have walked down every street tonight and I didn’t see them anywhere.”
“Baaaa,” said a sheep that was listening from the stable door.
“There are other people here besides just those who are in the town. There are shepherds watching over the flocks of sheep out in the field. Perhaps your family is with them.”
The kind sheep told me how to get to the field where the shepherds were, and I decided to go and see if my family was there.
I checked in on Joseph and Mary before I left, but it looked like everything was alright and they had settled in for the night.
Maybe I could find my family in the field where the shepherds were.
I went in the direction that the sheep had said, and before long I could see the campfire of the shepherds in the field.
They had some dogs with them watching over the flocks and I thought I could ask them about my family.
I was just about to reach the dogs and their flocks, when suddenly there was a bright light in the sky brighter than the sun!
I was so afraid that all I could do was lie on the ground and cover my eyes.
As the shepherds and dogs and sheep all fell to the ground, a shining angel appeared in the sky. He said,
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
All of a sudden the whole sky was filled with a choir of angels and they all began to sing.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
And then just as suddenly as they had appeared, the choir was gone, the angel was gone, and the light was gone too.
The sky was black with twinkling stars and it was so quiet that not even the sheep were making any noise.
I realized that I had just seen a miracle!
Something holy had just happened here. The angel had said that a Savior was born, Christ the Lord, and He was lying in a manger!
He must have meant Mary! She must have had her baby.
There was a manger in the stable that the animals ate out of. I forgot about finding my family and I started running back to town.
I had to get to Joseph and Mary. I had to help those kind strangers that had helped me.
I ran as fast as I could back to the town of Bethlehem. I got to the stable and ran through the door, and stopped.
I couldn’t believe my eyes!
There was Mary sitting by the manger and Joseph was standing by her side.
All of the animals were kneeling in their stalls. The shepherds from the field were there too, kneeling and looking into the manger. How did they get there before me?
And then I saw my family.
There was Mom and Dad and Brother. They were kneeling too and looking into the manger. I even saw Marvin. He was by Brother and was kneeling on the ground.
I couldn’t understand what was happening. How did everybody get here? Why was everyone kneeling and looking at the manger?
I started to say something, when suddenly there was the sound of a baby coming from inside the manger.
Everyone that was there turned and looked at me and smiled. They moved aside so that I could come and see.
Joseph looked at me and smiled and waved for me to come.
I walked up to the manger and gently put my head in over the side so that I could see.
There was a baby wrapped in linen rags and laid on the straw. He was so beautiful that it seemed like His face was shining.
But there was something special about this baby. Something Holy. He looked so noble and royal.
Even though He had just been born, it seemed that He had the face of a King.
I felt like I couldn’t keep standing while I was looking at Him.
So this was the baby that the angel told us about.
This was the Savior of the world. This was Christ the Lord.
I blinked while looking at the Savior, and when my eyes opened I was back lying on the floor next to Dad’s chair in our living room.
I was back home in the little gray house!
The lights on the tree were still shining and twinkling. Mama and Brother were still there too, and the Christmas carols were still playing softly on the radio.
Dad closed his Bible and said, “And that’s the Christmas story. That’s the real meaning of Christmas.”
So it had all been just a dream. But it had seemed so real!
I must have been listening to Dad read the Christmas story while I was sleeping and it made me have the strange dream. But maybe it wasn’t just a dream after all.
Maybe it was the Creator’s way of showing me what Christmas was really all about.
I had thought Christmas was all about the tree, and decorations, and presents. I thought it was these things that made Christmas the happiest time of the year.
But the angel of the Lord had said “peace on earth” and “good will toward men.” God had sent the Christ Child on that Holy night, a Savior to save the people from their sins.
That’s what makes people happy. That is the real Spirit and meaning of Christmas.
Everything else is nice, but without Christ the Lord, they really have no meaning at all.
It’s really not hard to understand.
Not even for a little black dog who grunts like a pig.