Sermons That Work

The Camel’s Story, Feast of the Epiphany – 2000

January 06, 2000

[This story for the Epiphany is a monologue from a camel’s point of view, and is draws on themes and stories told by Ted Loder, Frederich Buechner, John Shea, and Jean Vanier. It can simply be read, or it could easily be adapted as a kind of skit.]

Ships of the desert, my eye! Being a beast of burden is probably not all it is cracked up to be when old nothing but dust for brains Adam named us camels, and when Isaiah proclaimed that a multitude of us would cover the land of promise bearing peoples and gifts from all corners of the earth to come and see the brightness of the light of God’s people shining through the thick darkness covering all the earth. But still, without the bunch of us lugging all the supplies and tents, and yes, those precious if not somewhat odd gifts for a baby shower, the three Wise Ones would never have made it by the twelfth day. Besides, I consider myself one of the three lucky ones who only had to carry one of the Wise One’s himself, Melchior.

As it was, by the time we got there, Bethlehem, after being a town bustling and bursting with people and commerce for those few days of the census, had returned to its sleepy, tired self after everyone had been counted and had gone home. Which is to say, when we got there, the place was empty. Just a man, a woman, and between them the baby. But there I go getting ahead of myself again.

Thank goodness for Omar and Zepho and the other camel boys who actually saw to it that we were fed and watered and rubbed down now and then, while the Wise Ones could hardly if ever keep their heads out of the stars. If they were not gazing at the stars they were talking about them, charting them, interpreting them, and searching for just the one that would relieve them of their endlessly restless and yearning spirits. While they searched the heavens and earth for something they kept calling “the truth,” the rest of us in their not so little caravan saw to it that life was lived and everyone was taken care of. They often missed the most interesting exciting parts of the journey, so absorbed and preoccupied were they with their own concerns and interests. Like the mouse who smuggled herself into the saddlebag of Gaspar’s camel, Lucky. She was a teenage mouse who had had a terrible fight with her parents. But there I go again. I’m getting off the point.

So where were we? Certainly not at that dreadful King Herod’s place. Oh, there was plenty of company for all of us camels amidst his livestock and barns, and plenty of water and grain and other good things to eat, but even we could sense the terrible cloak of darkness and death that surrounded his entire little piece of the great Roman Empire. And who was this Caesar he kept talking about? He seemed troubled to hear the three Wise Ones talking about the stars and a new King of the Jews and could he give directions to the place where the child lay. Well, no, blustered Herod, but surely you will return to tell me where the little one is so I can go there myself to pay my respects. It wasn’t what he said but how he said it that made even the fleas on my humps crawl with uneasiness. Surely there must be another way out of here, we all thought. And as it turned out, we did head off in a new direction afterwards, which was too bad since there was something compelling about the child. But again, I am getting off the point.

On the outskirts of Bethlehem, we decided to make our camp where we ran across the happiest and wildest bunch of Bedouin shepherds you ever did see. All of them talking at once about angels and a baby and Good News for everyone. The Wise Ones smiled. The first time any of us had ever seen them smile!

So just the three of us carrying them and the one with the gifts headed into town to see if it was just as the shepherds had told us.

When we found them it was night. It was very cold. The odor of the hay was very sweet, and the cattle’s breath, like ours, came out in little puffs of mist hanging in the air. Of course I wasn’t supposed to come into the place where they were. In fact, it was such a tiny little cave of a place there wasn’t much room. But we had come so far, traveling for so many years to find something, someone, somewhere, that it seemed possible that we really might have to search no further. I figured it couldn’t hurt if I just stuck my head in for a peek.

So while Omar and Zepho and the others were unloading the gifts off the back of my cousin, and the Wise Ones were still consulting their charts and graphs to make certain that this truly was the one they were searching for, I stuck my head in. Well, it was a bit surprising for find the scene so ordinary. I don’t know what I had expected, but after years of schlepping these Wise Ones and all their gear and supplies all over every-possible-where possible, I guess I thought there would be crowds, and family, and all kinds of hoopla. I mean, even when a new camel is born amongst the herd, there is more attention and excitement: camel boys doing the midwifery, the rest of us clomping around to get a peek, shouts, cheers, everyone watching the new one try to stand up for the first time.

There was none of that in this little tiny place in Bethlehem. The man, the woman, between them the child. But no, just from the glance I caught, even I would have to say “between them, the King.” Even I could see that this little child was true light itself, but it is really curious how little babies like this one cannot even get up on their legs the way we do. They just lie there, so, well, still and vulnerable. Even I could see that even the stars might bow down before this one. Even I could see that he could teach creepy old Herod a thing or two about being a king. Even I could see that the heavens and earth and all creation were somehow about to be made new by the presence of this one baby in the hay.

It’s just too bad the Wise Ones did not seem to see all that. I mean they put their gifts in there, and bowed down on bended knee and all. But then it was back out the door, and up looking into the stars again, and soon we were being loaded up and herded down the road and out of town. All of us except Lucky, that is. The mouse stayed behind. She just could not bring herself to leave those people alone. She was not going back. Or going anywhere. She was staying right there with him, the one born to be King. She wanted to live the rest of his story!

Of course we missed her. Gaspar’s camel had come to like the little one. It was some years later that another mouse joined our caravan and started telling some fantastic and wonderful stories she had heard from her great-great-grandmother Lucky! Seems that throughout the years many people came to see the child born to be King. Some went running through the streets and all over the world telling others the good things they had seen and heard about this child. Others came to offer whatever gifts they had so that he might bring abundant life to all the world. All came seeking to receive something, but once you see him, really see him, you long to give whatever you have to further his life in the world.

Sometime or another, everyone comes to take a look in that manger. Whenever your time comes to be with him, stop and spend more time than we did. The Wise Ones kept us wandering all over the place, looking for whatever they called “the truth.” They kept vowing that one day they would return to Bethlehem, but every year they spent more and more time doing everything else but spending time with him before whom even the stars are said to bow down. I don’t know what they saw, but I know what I saw. Just that glance, a peek in the door was enough to know that this Jesus reveals to you how much God watches over you and loves you. Even I could see that this Jesus calls us to follow him so we might do something beautiful with our lives and bear much fruit. Even camels!

The one thing I saw that night was that the world needs you. Jesus needs you. They need your love and your gifts and your light. Isn’t that the funny part of it all? The Wise Ones are off all the time looking at the light in the stars, when the light that is the light of the world is right here in the midst of us. He shows us that. Any camel with eyes could see that! Know, my sister, my brother, that there is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives and his light shines! This is a deep secret that even the Wise Ones overlook most of the time. Let Jesus live in you. Go forward with him into all the world. Let your little light shine, for the light that is the life of the world is coming into the world.

By the way, did I fail to mention the seemingly little known fact that Melchior’s name was really “Melissa,” and that it was changed not merely because of male chauvinism but because of the strange gift that she brought to the Christ child? But there I go, getting off the point again. Keep looking at the babe in the manger, offer him your gifts, and you will see all that there is to know and see! And then some. And then some. And who knows, maybe if we all offer as much as we receive, we just might in fact make it through the eye of a needle! Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema