Every Dog ….
They say that every dog has his day, and that one was mine. I was there, you see, when Jesus was born. Me, a scruffy mutt of undetermined parentage and unremarkable appearance.
I’m just a regular guy who works in the field, but I was there to see it all first-hand — or first-paw, to be precise!
You’re probably surprised to hear that a dog was anywhere near Bethlehem that night — none of the stories mention us, I know. None of the stories mention chickens or donkeys or goats or mice, either — but you can bet your granny’s slippers that they were all there, too.
Walk through any town, visit any farm, cross any pasture, stroll along any seashore and you’ll find us; herding the sheep, guarding the hearth, entertaining the children, comforting the lonely, cleaning up the scraps that fall from the table … Wherever people are, there are dogs. We are so much a part of everyday life that our presence is taken for granted.
Anyhow, suffice it to say that dogs were well-represented in and around the land of Israel when Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. We were there — whether the gospel writers remembered to include us in their census or not.
It was the tail end of a typical day. I was resting beside the small campfire that Gavriel had built. Earlier he and I and Rachel and Lavana had shared a simple meal of bread and cheese and ale (I had water; I never drink when I’m on duty). Our stomachs were full, the fire was pleasant, the night was peaceful ….
All around us were the sounds of a dozing flock; grunts and burps and the soft thurump of wooly sides bumping against one another. There was the occasional bleat of alarm when a lamb was startled into wakefulness by the shifting waves of sheep. A moment later you’d hear the snuffling of the ewe as she comforted her infant, and soon all was quiet again.
Gavriel patted my side and commented that they might soon have “roast dog” for dinner if I didn’t move farther away from the fire. It is a joke he never seems to tire of — no matter how often he repeats it. I looked over at him and sighed, you can’t help but love a guy like that. I know I sure do.
The moon had departed on her monthly Sabbatical, leaving the sky black as soot, and the lights over in the little town of Bethlehem glowed golden in the darkness. The stars were so bright it was as if they’d moved closer — as though you could reach out and snap one up, like I sometimes do to the silken moths who flutter near our campfire.
I don’t know what first caught my attention, but suddenly my ears were twitching and my whole body was on alert. There was a sound, soft and low at first, like distant thunder — and a strange light appeared directly overhead, larger than any star.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! What’s that? What’s that? What is that?” I shouted.
Gav was on his feet instantly, ready to help me protect our sheep, “What is it, boy? Is it a wolf? What do you see? Where is it?”
I don’t envy humans much, but sometimes it would be awfully handy to have fingers to point. Instead, I had to show him where to look with my body.
“There! There! Look! Look up!” I aimed my nose toward the sky. By now the light was as luminous as the fullest winter moon and so close I could almost touch it. It was so beautiful, so perfect, so radiant …. I let out a howl of purest joy.
“What a sound! Was that you?” Gavriel and I exchanged looks of surprise. That sort of noise is not my style. At all.
There was no further discussion of my peculiar conduct, as the light above us commanded everyone’s undivided attention. It illuminated the hillsides all around us with the soft glow of early dawn, turning the rivulets into strings of sparkling jewels, and encircling each upturned face with a halo of gold.
No one spoke. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. We were awestruck. Even the sheep — who have a lot of trouble staying focused, let me tell you — gazed raptly up at the heavens.
Music to My Ears
Throughout this time the sound, which had been soft and muffled, was steadily growing louder. I turned my head to let it pour directly into my ear, to better understand what I was hearing. Gradually it began to transform itself into human speech.
I’m not a big one for words. Dog communication is built on tone and emotion and behavior; that means we understand what people mean when they talk, and aren’t fooled by the things they say. We usually sleep through long speeches, because we know that streams of words are often used to deceive or confuse. Keep your conversation short and clear and honest, and we will be all ears.
And I was all ears that night. The voice was strong and sweet and insistent; the sound of it made my tail wag. Although the words were new and unfamiliar, I could tell that the message was about something good, and it also had to do with going someplace — which might be good or bad for a dog, depending: we don’t always get to come along.
The light, which had touched down on the earth, began to rise back up into the sky. Suddenly a huge flock of other brilliant lights appeared and they lifted up their voices together; it sounded as if all heaven and nature were singing.
Then it was over. The lights were gone, the music stopped, and the night returned to a deep and peaceful silence.
Can It Be?
“Wow!” said Rachel, looking around at us, “Do you think that’s true? Could the Messiah have been born — right over there in Bethlehem?”
“Who would do a thing like that?” Lavana asked, “Why would any mother put her baby in a manger instead of a bed?”
“Well, let’s find out.” Gav looked at me and I held my breath: would the dog get to go, or have to stay behind? I put on my most sincere, humble, and pathetic expression.
“All right, all right, Maz,” he said with a laugh, “You can come along.” Have I mentioned what a great guy my master is? I’m telling you, there’s nobody quite like him. He’s terrific.
The Treasure Hunt
And so, as soon as the morning star glimmered on the horizon we set off.
I haven’t had so much fun since I was a pup; everyone was excited about finding this marvelous sign; it was like a treasure hunt. We ran down hillsides and jumped over creeks, laughing and barking (I did the barking). Of course I was always in the lead — people are so slow! — so I had to run back and give them yips of encouragement over and over again. It was tiring work and my tongue was hanging out a mile by the time we reached the town.
Gav and Rachel and Lavana clustered together like a tiny flock, peering timidly down the still-dark streets. The town was strange and confusing; there were none of the comforting trees or shrubs or soft grasses of the open pastureland — instead it was a maze of walls, gates, and fences.
I lead the way, as usual, first to the right, then left at the next street and another left, then right again, and …. had no idea where I was. I turned to look at Gav — but he wasn’t behind me! My boy was lost in the city! This was terrible; what to do? I shook off my fear and sat down beside a darkened house. Nothing helps a fellow think so well as a good scratch. So I scratched.
On the Scent
Whew! No question but that I had parked myself near a stable. I sniffed the air, identifying all the odors: hay, barley seeds, yew wood, cedar, cow, sheep, chicken…. was that a horse? No, a donkey, some doves, I think, and … people!
What an odd and unlikely assortment! This I had to see. I followed my nose down the street and around the corner and then stopped in my tracks.
It was the Light! The same light that had appeared to us on the hillside was here; right here in the middle of town. It was shining directly on a small stable. I was so pleased at seeing it again that I gave a little shout of joy: “Yahoooo!”
From a window above a man rasped, “Shut up you stupid dog! Nobody can sleep with that racket!” But from the shelter below — where the Light was shining — another man spoke softly, “Shhhh! Hush, pooch; the baby’s sleeping.”
I wagged my tail at the kindness I heard in his voice and crept closer toward the Light.
The door of the stable swung open and a young man looked out. I backed up, out of range of any shoe or pan of water that might be thrown my way. “Oh, there you are!” he said, as if he was glad to see me, “You must be cold out here on your own. Come on in and join the family!”
Such kindness to a flea-bitten nobody was unheard of. I bowed in gratitude, stretching my front legs forward, elbows to the ground.
“Come on, fellow. We won’t hurt you. Come in and see the baby.”
Comfort and Joy
Although there was no fire, it was warm inside the stable, and a gentle glow spread itself over all the creatures, great and small. The man who spoke to me sat down beside a young woman, who smiled at me as she rested her head on his shoulder. The man patted a place on the floor next to him, “Here, sit right here.” So I did.
“What a smart dog!” he said. I looked away, embarrassed; that was nothing. Still, it was awfully nice to hear.
“He has a sweet face,” said the lady. I turned my head just a bit, so they could admire my profile, too.
“They are such wonderful companions,” the man continued, “Mary, when we get back to Nazareth we must get a dog for Jesus. It’s important for a boy to have a dog as he’s growing up.”
Mary nodded and reached over to ruffle the fur between my ears. How did she know that was one of my favorite places to be scratched?
I felt warm and happy through and through. This place — this forlorn and shabby barn, was as glorious as a palace because of their love and kindness. I didn’t know who this other boy was that they were talking about, but I knew that I needed my boy, Gavriel, to be here with me.
I went over to the door and whined softly.
“Oh dear,” said Mary, “Joseph, do you think he’s lost?” Looking at me she asked, “Are you looking for someone?”
I sighed and looked deep into her eyes. Sometimes words would be nice.
It was then that I heard Gavriel’s voice nearby, calling anxiously, “Maz! Mazzie! Maz-ZIE!”
“Mazzie?” Joseph said, “Is that your name? Here!” he opened the door and called out, “Are you looking for your dog?”
I met Gav at the threshold with wriggles of delight, “You. You! You! You!” I cried.
“There you are!” my best friend knelt down and hugged me, “I thought you were gone! I don’t know what I’d have done without you!” Behind him Lavana and Rachel were chattering, “I knew he wasn’t really lost!” “Maz would never leave you, we told you that!”
My master said nothing; he just held me close while I licked his face, which tasted salty.
There was no point in looking any further. We had found all that we needed — all that anybody needed, and we’d had it all along: love. Love brought heaven onto the earth. Even here, in this forgotten, falling-down corner of a poor part of an insignificant town, life was beautiful and good, for love was here. I wagged my tail and looked at Gav; I hoped he understood.
“Come in, come in, all of you.” Joseph said, “It must be nearly time for breakfast, and you all look like you could use a meal.”
As the three shepherds stepped into the now very-crowded room, Lavana gasped, “Look!” We all turned, and there in a quiet corner was was a tiny child sleeping in a wooden trough filled with hay.
“There He is,” she said, “the baby in the manger!”
And so it was. Jesus Christ the Lord was born in a stable behind a hotel on a side street in Bethlehem. There was no glamor, no grandeur, no military might; only love and kindness — and that was enough. The savior came to us not as a warrior king clad in armor, but as tender, helpless child wrapped in love.
Love can change everything. Love did change everything: it transformed a stable into a royal estate, brought comfort and joy to the lost and lonely, and turned a dog into a philosopher.
The perfect, holy kingdom is as near as our hearts. It is up to us to transform that love into action and then truly it will be “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
~ 1 John 4:8
Merry Christmas with love and lots of dog kisses,
as told to Deborah Beach Giordano
originally published in 2011