by Elaine Faber
Once, in a faraway land on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, contented as only a cat can be, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of mouse?that morning’s breakfast. She jumped to the top of a warm rock, stretched out and prepared for a snooze in the sunshine. Nearby, a group of shepherds tended their sheep. The bleating of lambs faded as the flock moved on down the hillside. Kitty curled her tail around her nose and fell asleep.
A twittering bird interrupted her catnap. One of Kitty’s eyes peeked open; the tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this? She slipped off the rock and inched toward her unsuspecting victim. The distance narrowed as Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range– distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches)– wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast), thrust computed and muscles poised. She leaped.
The instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. She fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.
The white bird shrieked. “Wait! I’ll make it worth your while if you don’t eat me.”
Kitty was much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, but curiosity being a trait of her breed, she hesitated. “What can you tell me that will possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her head and licked her lips.
The white bird lifted her elegant head and folded her one free wing against her quivering body, as Kitty had a firm grip on the other. “Kitty, listen to me. If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will honor you and all your descendants.”
Kitty hesitated. If it were true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the promised blessing was a ploy to escape, but if she released her victim, all she would lose was a bit of dinner. Intrigued by the bird’s promise and not terribly hungry, as she was still burping the mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time…” She lifted her paw and the captive fluttered from her grasp.
The bird circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over!” And she flew into the afternoon sky.
So much for that little tidbit. I was probably foolish to let her go.
Seeking a place to sleep, Kitty returned to town and came upon a stable. The cows and donkey nodded in their stalls, warming the stable with their breath; a ewe curled in the corner with a lamb at her side.
Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb, combined with the warmth from the animals, created an inviting atmosphere conducive for sleep. Kitty sighed and was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep moved down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted back and forth across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward the town.
Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She looked into the eyes of a young bearded man. She felt the earthen floor as he set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant into the indentation in the straw molded and warmed by Kitty’s body.
Kitty lay down close by, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the activity in the stable. The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother and laid his cloak on top. He hovered near her, brought her water and covered her with her cloak.
The shepherds from the hillside came into the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe. Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. One was the bird Kitty had freed that afternoon. Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the Child and the birds became angels, hovering on each side of the manger where the Child lay. In the later hours, three kings came to worship the Baby and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
At last, the worshipers were gone, the stable grew quiet and the little family slept, while the angels kept watch through the night.
Kitty approached the pair and addressed the angel. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One that the world has waited for. I feel unworthy as I have no gift to give.”
“Kitty, this night you have received a great blessing. You were witness to the miracle of the Christ Child’s birth. He needs no gift of monetary value. He wants from us only the gift of our love and our service. By your willingness to obey, you had the privilege of giving up your warm bed to the Christ Child.”
Kitty curled her tail around her nose. How could she ever forget this experience? It was a blessing she and her descendants could treasure for generations to come.
She began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birds–perhaps she would forgo catching birds in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angel in disguise or when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none so great as the blessing she had received this night–the blessing of warming the bed of the Christ Child.