Dear Peeps…. Things are so busy this year and of course, my last surgery is tomorrow so don’t know when I’ll write again this month. I do however, want to share with you one of my Christmas stories. The Post-Register published it last year in their Christmas edition. I wish each of you much joy and blessings this Christmas season.
The Story of the Christmas Manger
By Mary Kyle
Once, so long ago that it almost seems like the remnant of a half-forgotten dream, I was a tree among trees. Strong and powerful, my branches were the first each day to receive the sun’s morning blessing and the kiss of the moon goodnight. I gloried in my magnificence and proudly spread my branches giving shelter and lending shade to many a weary traveler. For more years than I can remember, families came to take their meals beneath my cool leaves and daring children challenged one another to see who could climb the highest as they tried to touch the sky. Of course, many lovers also sought me out and I proudly bore the scars of their declarations of love.
It goes without saying that I had many saplings, all of whom also grew into mighty, strong cedar trees. It was a fine, fine life. I loved the open air – the breezes – and the hands of those who touched me in love and gratitude for the shelter I provided. If only it could have lasted forever. Alas, all things come to an end and one night, there was a most tumultuous and fearful storm. Other trees trembled before its fury and I alone stood undefeated – that is, I stood until the fury unleashed its most dreadful weapon and felled me with a fire bolt from heaven. While some memories live only in my dreams, I can still feel the flames coursing through my branches as they burned me to my very roots and splintered me into more pieces than could be counted.
How had this happened? One moment, I had been mighty and proud – and useful. Yet, with the touch of a single lightning bolt, my life as a tree ended and I was suddenly nothing more than rubble and ashes. I cried out to my friends and saplings but received no comfort. They were so afraid of the fire that they were too busy putting as much distance between their branches and the poor smoldering heap that used to be me as possible to provide comfort. When they finally spoke, it was not words I longed to hear.
“Surely, you must have been the most wicked of all trees to deserve such a fate,” their branches whispered as they struggled themselves to understand. I understood their fear. After all, if wickedness was not the cause of my misfortune, then what was and who might be next?
I could not blame them for how they felt. I wondered the same. What had I not done? Had I not given shelter to all who sought rest beneath my branches? Had I not kept the secrets of the many lovers who sought me out? Had I not kept the children who dared to climb my branches to touch the sky safe and never once let one of them fall? I couldn’t understand it then and long since gave up wondering if perhaps my friends had been right.
As I lay there in shock, the remnant of me smoldering away, a kindly man who kissed his first sweetheart beneath my branches rescued parts of me from the embers. Some of my smaller branches were used for firewood in the ovens. It hurt to see me burn away but felt good to see their thankful faces as they ate warm bread in the evenings. Some of my smaller limbs were carved into bowls and cups for use by the family. It made me happy to know that I could still be useful and serve them. The man fashioned the biggest part of me that survived into a box. Each evening, he worked for hours smoothing my wood with a plane and rubbing me with oil until my red cedar heart gleamed.
I was given to the daughter of the family – a kind girl with merry brown eyes and a ready smile. She called me her treasure box and filled me with sheets and linens, handmade lace, dried flowers, and other things that bring pleasure to a young girl’s heart. Each time she opened me, she’d run her hands lovingly over my wood and thank me for keeping her treasures safe while she whispered her most secret dreams to me. I felt pride knowing that while I was no longer a tree, I was still beautiful and so loved by my mistress.
But, that was long, long ago. The young girl grew up and as the young do, married and we moved far away. For many years, I was loved and cherished and served my mistress well. But, she grew old and eventually died. Her children cared for me for a time, remembering her stories of how her father saved me from the fire and lovingly made me to hold her treasures. But, eventually they passed away too and no one was left to remember her stories of how I came to be. I was sold many times and my new masters didn’t care for me. My wood lost its gleam. I because rough and discolored and finally simply broke beyond repair. I was thrown out for scrap but the owner of this inn found me and fashioned me into a manger – a trough – to hold hay and oats to feed the animals of the travelers who stopped at his inn.
There are times when I still remember springtime on the hillside where I was first a sapling but I’ve learned it does no good to remember what I was – what I am now is a simple manager and that’s not likely to change. I’ve often wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off if the fire had consumed me completely that night so long ago but I can’t change that either so here I am and here I’ll stay until I finally become firewood. I’m ready for the change.
And so, this is how I came to be here in Bethlehem, in a stable – which is really little more than a cave – living out my last days as a feed trough. The animals, understandably, are generally quite hungry when they are brought to the stable so I am near the opening and have a clear picture of all that goes on in the stable, although there is seldom anything of interest that occurs. No, little happens here – just the daily routine of hay and oats, and feeding donkeys, mules, and the occasional war horse. I still see a few lovers’ trysts but frankly, the stable is so dark, and damp, and well, smelly, that generally the only people who come here are those that come to tend the animals. It was because of this that I noticed them right away – humans in a place where humans shouldn’t be.
It was just a man and very young woman – hardly more than a girl – along with a few very tired donkeys and one ungrateful pack mule with a bad attitude. Why in the world they were staying here in this damp stable was beyond me. Of course, the town was full due to the census. Even here in the stables we knew of the order requiring everyone to return to the city of their birth to register for the census. Perhaps the inn was full? Still, I couldn’t imagine them wanting to stay in this dark place where there was no light when they could have simply camped outside. Why, if I were still a tree, I myself would have given them shelter beneath my branches for the night but all I could offer them now was my service as a feed bowl for their animals.
As a low moan escaped the girl’s lips, I suddenly understood why they’d sought shelter in this most undesirable and unlikely of places. I hadn’t noticed before because of the dark but the woman – the man called her Mary– looked like my mistress did when she gave birth to her children. Her face was white and pinched with pain and fatigue. She was gripping the mane of the donkey and doubled-over her swollen belly. She was going to have a child! In this place! A baby shouldn’t be born in a place like this. Even a tree (or a glorified feed trough) knew that. The inn was must be full or the innkeeper would have never put them out here.
The innkeeper came and helped the man, called Joseph, unload the packs from the animals and then filled me with feed for the donkeys and mule while the man hurriedly helped Mary down and made her a bed in the straw in the corner. As I suspected, the inn was full and this stable was the only place available so Mary could have her baby in private. I suppose it was just my imagination but while the innkeeper was filling me with grain, I swear that Mary looked at me and saw me – not me as the wooden feed trough I was now but me as the proud sheltering tree I had once been. It was as if she wanted – no needed –something from me but what I didn’t yet know. It had been a long time since I’d been needed for anything truly useful and it was both exhilarating and terrifying.
While we waited for Mary’s baby to be born, her husband – Joseph – did something no one had done in a long time – he touched me with love. Joseph emptied the grain from my insides and scrubbed me until all the years of grain and food mash was washed away. He took a small plane from one of his pouches and rubbed it back and forth over my planks, smoothing away the roughness left by years of neglect. He rubbed me with a small amount of oil and for the first time in many years, my cedar heart felt the glimmer of a glow begin. Finally, he filled me with clean hay and covered it with thick clothes. It was then I understood what Mary wanted from me.
My last days would not be spent simply as a manager feeding animals. Part of it would be spent as a bed for Mary’s child. I, who had once been a mighty tree who’d protected and given shelter to many, would now shelter Mary’s baby. I, who was once a cedar box protecting all the treasures and dreams of my mistress, would provide protection for the baby that was about to be born.
What a gift I was given that night as I held the baby safe inside my old weather planks. My old cedar heart glowed red with the pleasure of serving again, and for a time, I was still the strong cedar of my youth. As I held that tiny baby inside my planks, suddenly everything made sense – the lightning bolt which had robbed me of my branches and stature, the treasure box I once was, and the manger that I was now. Everything in my journey had led me to this moment and purpose. I was happy for the first time in many years and the joy of sheltering that tiny baby stayed with me for the remainder of my days. Although I wouldn’t know it many years to come, the baby that I sheltered and protected that night was the greatest treasure of all, for His name was called Jesus.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2: 8-10 NIV