Every year I write a story to tell the congregation during the Christmas Eve Candlight service. Often times, it’s an angsty, middle-agedy, reflective piece. As we have so many children in worship, though, I wanted to try to help the kids see Christmas through new eyes. So here is the 2014 Christmas story, featuring a talking dog who, coincidentally, is just a bit angsty and reflective (hey, as the great theologian Popeye once said, “I yam what I yam…”
“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”
If you saw Aziz, you would not think that he was a beautiful dog. He was about three feet high and covered with shaggy grey fur that grew longer each winter. He was nervous, and his ears were always alert, listening for sounds of danger or for a chance to get a treat from the shepherd boys who worked with him. His eyes – well, it was hard to see his eyes because they were hidden behind a tuft of gray. And, really, it didn’t matter very much because Aziz couldn’t see anyway.
When he was a puppy, Aziz could see fine. He used to love running through the pastures with the other dogs and the sheep, leaping over rocks and playing in the streams. But all of that changed on the day the darkness came.
It was a bright, sunny, day, and Aziz was watching his father try to bring a few wandering lambs back to the flock. Suddenly, they heard a cry of panic and they saw Rachel, a lamb that was about Aziz’s age, being carried off by a lion! While the other sheep ran, panicked, Aziz’s father went straight for the lion. It was terrible. There was a lot of barking and roaring and snarling and fighting. Aziz watched his father go after the lion again and again until the lion dropped Rachel. But when the lion released the lamb, it attacked the dog – and it held Aziz’s father by the throat!
Even though he was only a puppy, Aziz knew that he had to do something – and so he dove towards the lion, trying to help his father. The lion hit the puppy with a big paw – right in the head – and sent him flying. Everything got dark for Aziz right then.
All of the noise attracted the shepherds, who came and threw rocks at the lion and chased it until it went away. But when it was all over, Aziz’s father was dead and Rachel, the little lamb, was missing a leg. And when Aziz woke up, he couldn’t see anything at all.
For Aziz and for Rachel, it was the worst day of their lives. Aziz was lonely after his father died, and Rachel had to learn how to walk with only three legs. You might not be surprised to know that as they grew up together, Rachel the lamb and Aziz the dog turned out to be best friends. Everyone thought it was a good match – the three-legged sheep and the blind dog. The rest of the flock helped them, and the shepherds seemed to take extra care as well, making sure that both Rachel and Aziz were close by.
One day, they were just laying in the hot sun and Rachel was telling Aziz about the bird that she had just seen. It was beautiful, she said: the wings were striped black and white, and the head was a brownish color with a fancy kind of a crown on top. It had been flying through the field looking for bugs to eat.
It was quiet for a while, and then Rachel asked, “Does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt?”
“Does ‘blind’ hurt? I mean, inside your head – does it hurt when you can’t see?”
Aziz thought about it for a while, and then he said, “I – I don’t think so… No, it doesn’t really hurt. Sometimes my face feels, well, tired, I guess. And sometimes I get scared when I hear something I can’t see. But it doesn’t hurt.”
Rachel nudged a little closer to her friend. He liked having her near. He felt that her face was getting really close to his. He could hear her gentle breathing.
She asked, “Are there marks? I mean, on your eyes?”
Aziz shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I really don’t remember anything at all after…after that day. I just remember that it got dark – very dark. And sad.”
Even though it was quite warm, the sheep climbed even closer to the dog, and Aziz could feel her breath on his nose. She was quiet for a moment, and then spoke again. “Can I look?”
The dog, without thinking about it, said, “Sure. But you have to promise to tell me what you see.”
So Rachel the sheep sat back and using her one good front leg, she pushed aside the hair that covered Aziz’s face. She looked intently for a while, and then she said, “OK, now open your eyes so I can see them.”
Aziz shook his head and said, “They are open.”
“No, they’re not!”
“YES, they are!”
Rachel put her foot back on the dog’s forehead and said, “You asked me to tell you what I see, and I’m telling you that your eyes are closed! Just open them!”
Aziz sounded really angry and he shouted, “I can’t open them! I can’t see anything!”
Rachel tried to use her front foot to open one of the dog’s eyes, but you know that sheep don’t really have very good fingers for that kind of thing. She couldn’t really do much to try to open the eye, but she tried. It looked like one of the eyelids moved a little bit.
For Aziz, there was one tiny pinprick of light. It was a burning, white, hot feeling inside of his head.
“AHHHHHH!” The dog yelped in pain. “Stop! It hurts! It hurts!”
Rachel moved away very quickly. For a while, Aziz just sat there, crying. Rachel said, “I am sorry for hurting you. I just want you to see what I see.”
Aziz sniffled and said, angrily, “Well, you know that I can’t see. Just stop.” But what Aziz did not say to Rachel was that he did see the bright light, but that when he saw the light, he also remembered the bright sun on the day that his father died. And so he didn’t say anything, because the hurt inside was too deep.
They didn’t say anything else that day, and for the next few weeks, everything was back to normal. The winter was coming and the days were shorter, but Rachel and Aziz did what they always did – Rachel would tell stories about what she saw, Aziz would tell jokes, and they would both stay pretty close to the shepherds.
One night, Aziz woke up to the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It was like he walked into a whole house that was made of sound. It was singing – beautiful, amazing, wonderful singing!
The sheep was whispering. “Oh, Aziz! They are angels, and they are beautiful. Look at them! Open your eyes and look!”
Aziz said quickly, “I can’t see. You know that.”
Rachel replied, “I think you won’t see. Open your eyes, quickly! They are leaving!”
Aziz said “Just tell me what they look like! I can’t see.”
But it was too late. Aziz knew it when the music stopped and he heard the shepherds talking excitedly. It sounded like they were getting ready for a trip.
And that’s what happened! The shepherds left one young boy to watch most of the sheep, but they gathered up Rachel and a few of the others, along with Aziz, and went down the road to the town of Bethlehem. Aziz and Rachel knew that it had something to do with the angels, but they were not sure exactly what.
When they got to Bethlehem, they came into a stable, and the shepherds began talking with a man and a woman. Aziz’s nose was working wonderfully, and he could smell that something important had just happened. He thought he smelled a new baby – right there in the stable!
Aziz nosed around and found the woman, who was sitting on a bed of straw. She was really tired. The men kept talking, but she fell asleep.
Aziz had never, ever, felt happier in his entire life. He lay there next to the woman and his heart was beating and his tail was thumping and he was warm and dry and safe and sound and he just felt wonderful laying in the hay next to Mary. And then, he heard the baby start to cry. The baby’s mother was so tired that she took her baby, wrapped in a blanket, and held him between herself and Aziz’s soft furry coat, saying, “Here, little one. This old dog is warm and happy. Maybe the way he wags his tail will rock us both to sleep.”
The next thing he knew, Aziz was touching the baby. And everything was so quiet. He really, really, wanted to know what the baby looked like – but Rachel was all the way across the stable, and it was so quiet. He thought to himself, “If only I could see! What would he look like?”
Then he thought, “What if I can see?” But he was afraid to try, because he thought it might hurt again. But he was so happy that he didn’t think that the hurt could touch him there.
So right then, in that stable, with a baby named Jesus leaning against him, Aziz opened one eye very carefully. And then he opened the other.
Do you know what he saw?
The first thing that he saw was not the baby or his mother. The first thing that he saw was the brightness of the night – there was a star shining into the stable that was brighter than any star anyone had ever seen. And because the star was so bright, Aziz could see everything. He saw the baby. He saw the mother. He saw the shepherds. And across the stable, he saw a three-legged sheep that he knew was his friend, Rachel. In the light of that star, Aziz learned how to see again.
A couple of hours later, the shepherds and the man said good-bye to each other and the animals followed the shepherds back to the fields. Rachel came over to help Aziz, since she thought he was unable to see. The dog surprised his friend by running to her and licking her face again and again and again. “It’s me, Rachel. It’s Aziz! And I can see! I can see you! I saw the stable! I saw the baby! I saw the star!”
The two friends went with the shepherds back to the fields, and they stayed up all night talking and looking in the light from that star.
The next day, the black and white and brown bird flew past again, and Rachel began to tell Aziz about it but he interrupted her: “I know! I know! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Just then, Aziz’s keen ears heard a rustle in the grass a few feet away. He turned, and there in front of him was a lion! And it was heading right towards Rachel!
The first thing Aziz did was close his eyes and hide in the darkness. And then he heard his friend cry out, “Help!”
And so that day, Aziz opened his eyes and he ran right at the lion and he barked and barked and barked as loudly as he could. And because he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but he was big and fierce-looking, the lion stopped, and roared.
Aziz got closer and closer to the lion, barking as loudly as he could. The lion roared, and charged right at Aziz and Rachel – and then the lion fell over, dead. Aziz turned around and there was a shepherd boy, holding a slingshot. He had killed the lion and saved the sheep and the dog.
Aziz and Rachel lived a long, long time after that, but they never heard anything more powerful than the song of the angels, and they never saw anything more beautiful than the baby, laying in the manger in the starlight. And Aziz and Rachel told their children and their grandchildren about how they were part of the first Christmas ever.
Following are the comments I made after we lit our candles and sang “Silent Night”:
You know the light in which an object is viewed affects the way that we are able to see that thing. When I was young, all of my friends had “black lights” with special posters that looked one way most of the time, but really awesome when viewed with the special bulb. Walking on the beach by moonlight is different than going at noon. You know that about light.
And you know that light can be very attractive. When you’re out walking in the woods and you see a campfire, it attracts you. It calls you in, unless there is a six-year old holding a flashlight at the campfire, in which case, light that is on you becomes light that is at you, and you are driven away.
You may know that looking at you in this light is the highlight of my year. I don’t necessarily mean the warmth of the candlelight, although there is something to be said for that. But what I’m really talking about is the light of Christ. We have just stood and as gently, as humbly, as meekly as possible, and said the truest thing any crowd has ever said: “Christ the savior is born”. Well, we didn’t actually say it. We sang it. We didn’t shout it: we proclaimed it.
There is a gentleness in the light of Christ that is always on you but never at you. For four or five minutes out of the year, we stand in this light and we look at each other in it. I wish I had a giant mirror so that you could see yourself in this light. More than that, I wish that I was better at seeing you in this light on Monday afternoons or Thursday evenings. I wish we could learn how to see ourselves in this light all the time. I wish we could learn how to see those we love in this light all the time. I wish we could learn how to see those with whom we disagree in this light. I wish we could learn how to see those we call “other” in this light.
One day, pray God, we will.
Until then, we gather here for reminders about how beautiful this light can be, and how much better we can see because of it. And we hope. And we worship. And we proclaim: Christ the savior is born. Thanks be to God. Amen.