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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At time of danger, donkey prays for louder bray

Adapted by Amy Friedman

Jill Gilliland

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"The Donkey's Bray" is a biblical adaptation.

Many centuries ago, the prophets proclaimed that the son of God soon would be born in the little town of Bethlehem, near the place where King Herod had his summer palace.

Miles away, in Nazareth, Joseph, a simple carpenter, learned that his betrothed, Mary, would give birth to the holy child.

In those days the great emperor Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire. Many might have imagined that the son of God would be born in a castle, to a wealthy and powerful family. Many thought such an important child would be wrapped in silk and satin, rocked in a cradle studded with jewels.

It happened that just before Mary was due to give birth, Caesar devised a way to make more money he ordered every person in his empire who was 12 or older to travel to the city of his birth and pay taxes.

Joseph had no choice but to obey the emperor, and so, although his wife was due to give birth any day, Joseph and Mary set off over the hills of Galilee by foot and by donkey.

After three days, exhausted and worn, Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem and began to search for a place to sleep. Alas, everyone born in this city of David had arrived for the same reason, and to his dismay, Joseph could find not a room. At long last, an innkeeper offered a place in his stable.

And so, attended by Joseph and warmed by the breath of their donkey and the other animals who shared the stable on that night, Mary gave birth to a boy, the son of God.

Outside, up in the high, wild hills, angels appeared to shepherds who were guarding their sheep. "A miraculous child has been born," they proclaimed joyfully. When the shepherds heard the news, they hurried to the manger in Bethlehem, the place the angels said was the birthplace of the son of God.

As the shepherds made their way to the manger, far away in the east, three wise men saw a new star rise in the sky, and so they too knew that a person of great importance, a new ruler, had just entered the world. They too set off on a journey, this time to the palace of King Herod. They believed a new ruler must have been born to a king.

When the wise men entered Herod's palace and gave him the news that a great ruler had been born, Herod bristled with jealousy. He must destroy this boy.

"Go and find him," Herod said to the wise men, "so that I too may go and honor him." He did not let them know of his evil intentions, and so the wise men followed the star and soon came to that little stable in Bethlehem.

When they saw the child, they, like the shepherds and all others who greeted the newborn, recognized that this was a boy meant for greatness.

That night the three wise men dreamed of King Herod, and when they awoke, they understood that the king meant to harm the child. "We will not tell the king where to find him," they agreed.

Guided by angels, Mary and Joseph also understood that they must hide their boy from the king. Joseph prepared to depart. He led their small donkey, who had so valiantly carried Mary all this way, toward his son. Mary wrapped the baby as warmly as she could, and, holding him, she climbed on the donkey's back.

Joseph packed their meager belongings and the family set off for Egypt, where the king could not harm them.

Hours later, they stopped to camp for the night by the side of a road, but in the middle of the night, the donkey felt the ground beneath his hooves trembling. He strained to listen, and in the far distance he heard the sound of soldiers marching. He knew this was Herod's army, and he must find some way to protect the child.

So the donkey began to bray, but in those days the donkey's voice was soft, so no one heard him. He listened again and heard the soldiers coming nearer. So this time he closed his eyes and prayed that his voice would grow louder, to sound a warning cry that would wake the family before the soldiers came to take away this beloved child.

The donkey's prayers were answered that very moment, and his soft voice became an insistent braying, waking Joseph and Mary, who quickly rose and with their baby fled to safety.

Ever since that day the donkey's voice has been that loud loud enough to wake anyone sleeping peacefully, loud enough to offer warning to all those who would heed his call.