“Man it’s cold out here! Why did they pick December to celebrate Christmas anyway?”
“Awww quit your complaining. You volunteered to be in the Nativity scene, didn’t you? Every year you complain about how cold it is out here, but then you go and volunteer again and again.”
“Tis’ the season to complain about cold weather. I’m just doing my part, Frank.”
“Yeah, but at least we have Long-John’s on under our robes. Back two thousand years ago those guys probably froze their goose pimples off on their way to the stable.”
“You got that right!”
“Hey, Will, here comes a new guy leading a donkey! I didn’t know we were going to have a live animal show this year! Who is that guy, anyway? I don’t recognize him.”
“Haven’t a clue, my fine frozen friend. Must be a new member the preacher recruited.”
With that said the stranger came walking up and nodded at the crew assembling beneath the make-shift stable. He looked into the manger and saw a life-like baby doll tucked beneath satin baby blankets and smiled.
“Good night for a Nativity scene isn’t it?” he remarked with an unusual accent.
Frank and Will nodded, “Yeah, just too darn cold!”
“I’ve seen worse. At least the wind isn’t blowing this year.”
“Thank God for small favors!”
“Yes, indeed. Thank Him for small and large favors.”
Frank nudged Billy to glance over at the stranger’s feet. They were dirty and the sandals he was wearing looked unusually worn. His robes looked like nothing any of the rest of the group had on. His beard was real, unlike theirs and his eyes looked weary… fatigued. There was something unusual about the man, but they couldn’t put a finger on it.
“Name’s Frank. This is Will. Don’t remember seeing you around lately. You a new member?”
“Hello. It is good to meet you. My name is Nick. No, you haven’t seen me before. We are new to the area. I guess you could say we’re just passing through. We saw your Nativity here tonight from the highway and thought we might find a little hay. Plus, I could use a little company. Do you mind?”
Frank and Billy looked at each other and shrugged, “Fine by us. We stacked up several bales of hay to knock off the chill coming in from the north. Help yourself.”
“I noticed you said we,” remarked Will, “Where’s the rest of your family? I didn’t see your truck or livestock trailer come into the parking lot.”
“No family. No truck. Just Jacob and myself. We do a lot of walking,” said Nick.
“Really? That’s kinda unusual. Just you and the mule passing through this time of night?”
“Donkey… Jacob is a donkey. There’s a big difference. Yes, we have done a lot of walking over the years. Walking and watching… that’s what we do.”
“I’ll bet you’re hungry, Nick. You want something to snack on until later. We are having a big feed after this Nativity scene is over tonight in the fellowship hall, but I’ve got a thermos of coffee behind that manger over there, and I’ve got an apple in my backpack behind the stable.”
“The coffee sounds great, and Jacob would love that apple.”
Frank retrieved the apple and the thermos full of coffee. Nick poured a cup and held it between the palms of his hands to warm them before taking a drink.
Billy asked, “Can I give the apple to ole Jacob? I’ve never feed a mule before.”
“Donkey… Jacob is a donkey. There is a difference, you know. Sure, he’s friendly. He’d love for you to give him the apple.”
“Man, Jacob looks old. His coat is nearly silver and it is kinda thin in spots. His hoofs are worn badly, too. Is he okay?”
“Jacob is in remarkable shape for his age. I guess we both are.”
Frank, Will and Gus… the three not so wise men were standing by the plywood camels and looking sympathetically at Nick and Jacob the donkey. The folks playing Mary and Joseph were beginning to take notice, too.
The guy playing Joseph introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Joe… Joe - Joseph… get it?” he smiled.
“Got it,” Nick smiled. “Bet you must be Mary,” he nodded at the lady behind the manger.
“They call me Beth, but my given name is Mary Elizabeth,” she laughed. “I hadn’t thought of it until Joe spoke up.”
“The names fit quite well,” Nick quipped, “Very well.”
“Here, munch on this,” said Frank as he shoved some hay toward Jacob. “I’ll be back in a minute. I have a bucket in the back of my truck. I’ll just get some water from the hydrant for ole Jacob.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’m sure could use a drink.”
Cars began to pass by the church and slow down to take a peek at the Nativity scene. A window rolled down and a little girl could be heard excitedly saying, “Look, Daddy … a donkey… a real live donkey! Can I get out and pet him?”
“No. Roll up that window before it sticks its head in and bites you!”
Nick quietly said, “Jacob won’t bite you, young lady.”
With that said the little girl opened the door and jumped out of the car. “Get back in the car Suzie! He might kick you!”
“He’s friendly. He won’t hurt her Mr. McCray.”
“How’d you know my name? Who are you, anyway?”
“Name’s Nick. I know a lot of folks.”
“We just came from the grocery store and were headed home. You think your donkey would like a carrot?” asked Mr. McCray.
“Sure, give it to him if you wish. Jacob loves carrots. And, by the way, I belong to the donkey. He doesn’t belong to me.”
“Say that again? You belong to the donkey?”
“That is correct.”
Folks began to get out of their cars and gather around. “There’s something unusual about you two,” remarked Frank. What is your story? Where are you two from?”
“Well, actually, we are from all over, but we’re originally from east of here… Way east of here.”
“How far east?”
“Is that in Eastern Kentucky?”
“Further east, I’m afraid.”
Someone in the crowd spoke up, “You mean Israel?”
“Correct. Are you certain you really want to know about us?”
Will spoke up, “Heck yeah. What gives? You and the mule show up here at our Nativity scene looking rather worse for the wear… I’m curious about you. I want to know your story!”
“Will, I don’t have much of a story, but Jacob does.”
“The mule has a story?”
Nick smiled, “Donkey… there’s...”
Will cut him off, “Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s a big difference. What’s the donkey’s story?”
“Brace yourselves. Jacob is no ordinary donkey. In fact Jacob is a very, very special donkey. Jacob was born a long time ago,” Nick paused and sighed, “Fact is, we both were, but Jacob is older than me.
Jacob was born in the land of Galilee near the city of Nazareth.”
Little Mary spoke up, “That’s were Jesus was born, wasn’t it?”
Nick smiled and said, “Close, He was born in the City of David… Bethlehem. But, to get there his mother had to travel all the way from Nazareth with her husband Joseph. They were going there like a lot of folks back then, to pay their taxes.
But, Mary was great with child and the journey was going to be a long rough one, so Joseph needed a donkey for Mary to ride on. He didn’t have much money. He couldn’t afford to buy a donkey and pay his taxes, too. He was beside himself as to what he was going to do, so he prayed to God to help him solve his dilemma.
After he finished his prayer he heard a knock on the door. When he went to the door there was a man standing there who asked, “Is this the home of Joseph the carpenter?”
And Joseph replied, “It is. How may I be of service to you?”
“I have a problem. We are in need of a table, but we have little money with which to pay you. I was wondering if we might work up a trade of some sort.”
Joseph looked passed the man and saw his old donkey standing outside. “Is your donkey gentle? Can he be ridden?”
“I’m afraid the creature has seen better days. He’s gentle, but I know of no man who has ever ridden him. He’s old and tires easily.”
“I’ll take my chances, and trade you my own fine dinning table for your old donkey. Do we have a deal?”
The man was elated. He was quiet thrilled with the trade. A fine dinning table for an old worn out donkey… a good trade in anyone’s book.
So, with a handshake the deal was struck.
“May I enquire as to the donkey’s name?” asked Joseph.
“We call him Jacob.”
“Then Jacob it will remain.”
The crowd began to draw closer to Nick. Some were beginning to mummer and whisper. Some were shaking their heads, but still they listened. The old man with the funny accent was amusing even if his story was a little weird.
“The day came when Mary and Joseph departed on their long journey to Bethlehem. Joseph looked at the sad excuse of a donkey and wondered if it would survive the trip. He said a little prayer beneath his breath, “Father in heaven, give this creature strength to make this journey. We need a miracle. Amen.”
They began early that day… the day of the journey. He helped Mary upon the donkey and Old Jacob never flinched. It was as if he had been accustomed to someone ridding him all of his life. Joseph was amazed.
Joseph suspected they would have to take frequent breaks over the next few days with Mary being great with child, and with the old donkey stumbling as they began their trek.
But, an odd thing happened along the way. At first Joseph thought he was imagining things and he suspected the shadows of the trees were playing tricks on him as he led the old donkey along the road each day from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jacob’s coat appeared to be getting darker.
Joseph shook off the thought and said to himself, “It’s the shadows and the clouds playing tricks on my eyes.”
Later in the day it occurred to him that the donkey was no longer stumbling. When they stopped for Mary to rest he examined the little creature and noticed his hoofs were looking stronger. The cracks and splits he had been concerned with that morning were vanishing. “Odd, very odd,” thought Joseph.
Still, they moved on closer and closer to Bethlehem. The day they arrived in the little town Mary said, “Joseph, I think I will try to walk now. My mind must be playing tricks on me, for this little donkey seems to have grown smaller on our journey. He appears but a colt!”
The light of the day was fading as they walked from Inn to Inn in search of a room and Joseph didn’t pay much attention to Jacob the donkey. He was much more concerned with finding a place for Mary to lie down. It seemed as if the baby was going to come any moment.
When they thought all was lost an Inn keeper saw their predicament and felt compassion for them. “Look, there’s a stable around back where our guests keep their animals. It isn’t much, but at least there is some fresh, soft hay for your wife to lie on. And, you can feed that little colt you have with you.”
They turned and looked behind them and there stood a young donkey colt. Joseph looked wide eyed at Mary and she at him. Jacob had indeed grown younger as the days of their journey grew to and end. He was now a young colt.
The leash had fallen off of his little head and he followed them like a little puppy following his master.
That night… well, you know the story about what happened that night. That is why you folks are gathered here at the Nativity scene, isn’t it?” Nick smiled. “But, there’s something that happened that night that most folks never heard about.”
The crowd had grown around their little Nativity scene. Cars were parked all along the side of the highway as far as one could see. People in the crowd weren’t certain whether they should believe the old man’s story or not. Some scoffed while others truly wanted to believe another miracle had taken place all those years ago on that journey to Bethlehem.
…Still there was doubt, but no one said a word. Their silence was enough for the old man named Nick to continue his story.
“Mary delivered her baby that night. There was a multitude of angels gathered around that little stable looking down on Baby Jesus and singing… just as you have read in the scriptures. But, something else happened, too. Something not recorded in the scriptures.
As the angels were singing and that bright star appeared in the sky above the birthplace of our savior the little donkey moved closer to the manger for a better look at what he had brought to Bethlehem that day. As he grew closer he leaned over and nuzzled Baby Jesus. When he did Jesus’ little hand reached up and patted him on his soft brown nose.
When he did, the star above the stable began to glow even brighter and brighter. The whole stable was bathed in a brilliant light that was almost blinding. Then as suddenly as it happened, it was gone.
The days went by and Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with their baby. That time Jesus was riding the donkey, not Mary. Wherever Jesus went the donkey was not far behind. It was as if it was always watching out for the little boy. It was as if Jacob had a special mission in life… His mission was to look after Jesus and no one else.
Well, Jesus grew up. God had a mission for Him, too. His life took him away from Joseph and Mary over the years. He traveled around Judea preaching and teaching and fulfilling the prophecy that he had come to earth to do. The little donkey stayed behind with Mary and Joseph. After all a carpenter needed a donkey to deliver his wares.
Still, Joseph and Mary knew there was something very special about Jacob the donkey. Yet, they dare not tell anyone for fear someone would think they were crazy.
One day when they were much older they went out to feed Jacob and discovered he was gone. They searched all around for him to no avail. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. He was gone as quickly as he had appeared all those years before. They were saddened by their loss, but they also knew Jacob had been with them far longer than they had ever expected him to be. After all he had been very old when Joseph had traded their dining table for him before Jesus was born.
Still, they missed him.
As Jesus’ days as a man here on earth were coming to the end … as all the things that were prophesied in the scriptures were being fulfilled there was yet another mission that had to take place. It was a mission that required the assistance of one of God’s special creatures again. - And, not just any creature. He needed a colt that had never been ridden by a man before.
As they approached Jerusalem he sent two of his disciples into a nearby village and told them they would find a colt tied there. It was a colt on which a man had never sat. He said, “Loose him, and bring him.”
They did and there was Old Jacob… a colt again… tied by a door. It was just as Jesus had said… A colt never ridden by a man… No ordinary man… The son of God.
The disciples untied him and brought him back to Jesus. They threw their garments over him and Jesus sat upon him as he entered into Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny… our destiny.”
The crowd around the Nativity scene had grown to hundreds, yet no one spoke. All were transfixed on the story the old man was sharing with them. There were cars parked along the highway and in the ditches as far as the eye could see by that time.
At last someone broke the silence and yelled out. “That is a wonderful story, but what about you? Who are you and what is your story? And, are you telling us this is the same donkey Jesus was carried into Bethlehem and Jerusalem on? It’s a good story, but I think it’s just a little too far fetched.”
“I understand. Truly, I do. If I had not lived this life I would find it hard to believe, too.”
Someone else spoke up, “Then who are you?”
“My name is Nick. It is short for Nicodemus. I suspect if you know the scriptures then you know about me.”
“You mean to tell us you are the same Nicodemus who spoke with Jesus. The same Nicodemus who helped prepare his body for burial? That’s preposterous. You and the mule would have to be nearly two thousand years old!”
About that moment a shooting star flew across the sky behind the Nativity scene and filled the night with the brightest, whitest light the crowd had ever seen.
Suddenly, little Mary yelled out, “Look! Look! Jacob is young again! He is a little baby donkey!”
The crowd turned to look at the donkey. It was true! Jacob was now a colt and standing near him was a young boy who favored Nick… only much younger.
“No, I’m not the same Nicodemus who spoke with Jesus and helped prepare his body for burial that day two thousand years ago. I’m not like that Nicodemus at all.
For you see, I was a little skeptical back then. I wanted to believe it was true, but I was uncertain. I’m not anymore. I believe now. I know now.
I was there that day Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Jacob the donkey. When he climbed off Jacob that day he handed the reigns to me and told me to take care of him. He said he had other work to do in the future.
I told him I would, and for two thousand years Jacob and I have been together. We have journeyed all over this earth waiting and watching the sky for the day He will return.
You see, I told you he wasn’t a mule. He is a donkey… a special donkey. Every Christmas he becomes a colt, and I become a young man again.
Jacob is waiting for His return to carry Him into the city one more time. Until that day I will watch over this little donkey. I told Him I would.
For you see, I believe now.”
As the crowd looked on the young man turned and led the donkey into the darkness between the cars parked along the highway.
Everyone was quiet for a long time. None could quite grasp what they had witnessed that night at the Nativity scene. But in their hearts they believed. For once Christ has touched your life you’ll never be the same.