Ollie & The First Christmas

By Paul Rhodes


My name is Ollie.  I’m an ox.  Yes, one of those big, lumbering beasts they put in a yoke that pulls a plow.  Not really an exciting life, pulling a plow up and down a field all day, but somebody has to do it.  God made me strong and big.  In fact, He designed me for this work.  My life consists of working hard, eating and sleeping. Boring you say?  Yes, but you know, there is satisfaction in doing what God made you for and I do it well.

I live in a little town called Bethlehem.  Normally it’s a quiet place, not much happening, but lately it has been crazy.  People everywhere!  You can hardly move for all of them.  And the noise – it is deafening!  More and more people are pouring in every day all because of someone named Caesar.  I’ve heard people say that he’s taking a census.  I think that’s where you count the people up or something and everyone has to go to the city or town they were born in.  It’s hard to believe so many people were born in Bethlehem, but what do I know?  I do know that Caesar’s soldiers are having a hard time controlling the crowds.  Many have traveled a long way.  They are tired and cranky and all looking for a place to stay.  As usual those with all the money are getting the best places.  There’s drinking and dancing and singing and then fights break out and the soldiers have to come and break them up.  I’m glad I’m not a soldier!  It’s much more peaceful plowing out in the fields.

One night we had finished plowing and I was dreading going back into the town.  It was beginning to get cold and I could see my breath.  People were camped out all over the town and fires for cooking were everywhere.  I was beginning to get used to the noise, but I couldn’t wait to get back to my stable.  At least there I had my own space.  It’s dirty and smelly and crowded with other animals, not exactly a palace, but it’s my space.  Well, at least I thought it was.

People!  Oh no, people in my space!  It’s not enough they are all over the town, but now people in my space.  I was snorting mad and ready to start breaking up the place.  Then I took a closer look.  It was a man and a young woman.  They looked tired and weary.  I could see from the size of the young woman’s belly that she was going to have a baby.  I started to feel sorry for them.  What were they doing in a dirty, smelly place like this when she was about to give birth?  Oh they had cleared the stable out as best they could, but it still wasn’t the place to have a baby.  I heard her moan and could tell from the look on her face that the contractions had already started.

I saw a strange donkey and asked, “Where did you come from?”  He said, “Nazareth, I came with my master Joseph and his wife Mary.”  “Why are they here in my stall?  They ought to be inside the inn,” I said.  “They tried to get a room, but there’s nothing available,” replied the donkey.  “The innkeeper said they could find a space in the stable.”

Oh yes, he would. I thought.  Very free at giving them my space!  He should have made room for them inside.  Just then Mary let out a scream and I knew the labor pains had really started.  Her knuckles were white as she gripped Joseph’s hand.  I could tell from her face that she was frightened.  This was her first experience of giving birth.  I thought, “Okay, Joseph.  Time to get help,” and realized at the same time that everybody was too busy to even care about a young girl having a baby.  “You are on your own, Joseph!  Sure hope you know what you are doing!”

He had cleared an area on the dirt floor and covered it with clean straw.  He gently laid Mary down and whispered words of encouragement to her.  The contractions became closer and closer and each time they came, Mary cried out in pain.  Even though it was cold, beads of sweat were all over her face and her breathing was harder and faster.  “Push, push,” said Joseph as each contraction came.  I thought to myself again, “What a place to have a baby:  a cold dirt floor, the smell of urine and animal dung, hardly any privacy and the noise of people who couldn’t care less just outside.  Poor kid.  What a way to start your life!”

One final cry of pain and one big push and out came the baby.  Joseph’s big, rough hands caught the newborn.  It was a little boy!  He cleaned the baby up as best he could, turned him upside down and gave him a whack on the bottom!  Well, the baby let out a loud cry and I couldn’t help thinking that with lungs like that, he might turn out to be a preacher!  He showed the little boy to Mary and her face lit up with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.  They had strips of rags and together they started wrapping them around their baby boy’s tiny arms and legs, then around his body.  It was getting colder by the minute, so Joseph put the baby in my feeding trough and covered him with straw. I nudged my way closer to the trough to get a better look at this baby.  He looked beautiful laying there even though he was shivering a little from the cold.  I stuck my big head in the trough and breathed my warm breath over him.  Was that a smile on his face?  Maybe it was or maybe it was just gas pains.

Joseph was busy helping Mary get cleaned up.  I asked the donkey what he did for a living.  “He’s a carpenter by trade, said the donkey.  For a carpenter he didn’t do a bad job as a midwife!  I watched him as he tenderly looked after Mary.  The look in both their eyes showed how much they loved each other and the joy over the birth of their son was clearly seen.  They began to sing and praise God for His goodness.  Joseph picked up the baby, lifted him high above his head and said, “Jesus, you are named Jesus just like the angel said.  Jesus, for you will save your people from their sins.”

“Give me the baby,” said Mary. “Jesus, Jesus,” she whispered, “My son, but also God’s Son.  The angel said you will be great.   You will be called the Son of the Highest.  God will give you the throne of David.  You will reign over the house of Jacob forever and your kingdom will never end.”

Wow, I thought, angels, Son of God, the throne of David.  The journey really must have gotten to them!  Maybe the pain was too much for her.  They must be crazy!  God’s Son, born in a filthy place like this!  God wouldn’t allow that.  Kings are born in palaces, not dirt pits.  Oh well, maybe they’ll feel better in the morning after a good night’s sleep.  The baby began to cry and Mary started to feed him.  Whoever he was, he had a good appetite.  I could hear him sucking and little grunts of pleasure came from around his lips.  Over the shoulder, big burp and ready for sleep!  Joseph put him back in the feeding trough. I looked at him and thought again, “What a rotten deal life has handed to you.  Poverty and crazy parents as well!  You need all the help you can get, baby,” so I nuzzled him and warmed him with my breath.

The town had grown quiet now. All I could hear was heavy breathing and snores from other animals and people.  It’s time for me to settle down.  I’ve got a heavy day ahead of me.  I had to push the donkey and a couple of cows over so I could lay my large body down.  I was just dozing off when I heard voices in the distance getting louder and louder as they came nearer.  “What now?” I thought.  “Can’t we even get a decent night’s sleep?”  There was so much excitement in their voices and everyone was talking at the same time.  It was impossible to understand what they were saying.  Then, with their lanterns burning bright, a group of shepherds burst into the stable.  “Where is he?  Where is he?” they cried.  Joseph and Mary woke up, rubbing their eyes.  “Who are you looking for?” they asked.  “The Savior, the Christ, the Messiah!” they replied.

Mary quickly took Jesus out of the feeding trough and the shepherds with their lanterns held high looked at him and shouted with joy, “It’s exactly like the angel said.”  And they began shouting and singing praises to God.

Wow, more angel talk!  One of the shepherds had a little lamb under his arm.  I said, “Hey, lamb, tell me what this is all about.”  I could hardly believe the story he told me.  He said that the shepherds had just put the sheep in the fold for the night and were settling down to sleep.  There was a light, brighter than they had ever seen before and an angel was right in front of them.  All the sheep were bleating and the shepherds were flat on their faces trembling with fear.  The angel spoke to them and told them not to be afraid.  He was bringing great news, joyful news for all people.  The shepherds listened in amazement as they were told that in the City of David a Savior had been born who was Christ the Lord!

Wow, maybe Mary and Joseph weren’t crazy after all!  The angel said the sign would be that they would find the baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough.  Then the whole sky lit up and lots of angels were singing, “Glory to God on high and on earth peace and good will to men.”  Then they disappeared and all that was left were the stars shining in the night sky.  After they had gotten over the shock, the shepherds decided to come to Bethlehem and see for themselves what the angel had old them, so here they were!

Well, you couldn’t keep those shepherds quiet.  They were shouting and praising God.  Everyone who came to the stable after being awakened by the shepherds was amazed as they told their story over and over again.  Mary and Joseph said very little but their faces were beaming with joy.  As I looked at them I thought about what a big, dumb ox I had been to think they were crazy.  Their baby was the Son of God!
I’m not really sure to this day why God allowed His Son to be born in my stable and to sleep in my feeding trough.  I don’t know why He revealed this great event to humble shepherds instead of to the priests and rulers.  There is a lot I don’t understand, but this much I do know:  I am the proudest ox that ever lived because God let me see His Son being born and let me warm Him with my breath.  Maybe God was trying to tell us that if His Son came and shared my space, then there is no space too dirty or poor that He wouldn’t be willing to share.  How about your space?  Is there room for Him there?

written and submitted by Paul Rhodes