The first memories of this brown and white dog involved fire. The dog, her mother, and her four brothers and sisters had been caught in a fire. Somehow as a small puppy only 6 months old, she had been able to lead them out of the fire saving their lives. She remembered how all of her family huddled in the back of a storage house, afraid to move. She had not been afraid and was able to see a path through the burning building that briefly was available for escape. She barked and pushed her mother, who finally realized what the little puppy was doing. Ahead of her mother, she led her family out through the flames.
From that day on, the man who fed and cared for her family treated her as a special puppy. He trained her to be a watchdog to watch through the night for fires that might start and to tend fires that needed to be kept alive in the night. She had a great instinct for this work and before long everyone in her town became dependent on her as the faithful night watchdog. She had free run of her town, which was named Bethlehem. Every night she was a familiar figure seen running through the streets checking on one fire after another.
She had been responsible for sounding a barking alarm preventing several accidental night fires from burning out of control. Tired family members also counted on her. When they tended fires to keep young babies or sick relatives warm in the night, they knew if they fell asleep she would wake them before the fire burned out.
They all knew her name and they would say, “Tessa will wake us. We don’t have to be afraid that we might fall asleep.” During the day when the dog slept, everyone would pass by her master’s house whispering, “Let us be quiet. Tessa needs her sleep.”
During the night, she had many friends. A woman, who rose early to bake bread for travelers, would always have a scrap of food to feed her. A young man, who cared for animals housed at a local inn, would always take time to play chase-the-stick with her and talk to her about his hopes and dreams. An old rabbi invited her to pray with him.
An old holy man would often end his late night prayers reciting the psalm he called “Tessa’s psalm.” It was about the watchman waiting for the dawn. He would say to her, “Be on the look out for the special one, who is destined to come some day to this little town. If you are lucky, you will be the watchdog, who witnesses that new dawn.”
So Tessa watched each night, never growing tired and never being afraid of fire. Sometimes she herself had to put out fires. She understood how fire worked and how it spread. She respected fire and she knew how powerful it could be.
One night while she was watching, many travelers arrived because it was time for them to come to Bethlehem to be counted. Tessa wasn’t sure why they were being counted, but all night many arrived until there were more people in town than she had ever known. She checked camps outside the city and found several lamps that had been left to burn unattended. She made sure they were safe. She carried some of them in her teeth to the perimeter of the camps. One man even threw a stone at her suspecting her of being a mongrel thief.
As Tessa approached the entrance to the city from the north, she came upon a man leading a woman on a donkey being led by a jackel. The jackel turned and ran away as soon as the man, the woman and the donkey entered the town . Tessa recognized right away that the woman was about to give birth. She knew the signs from many a late night birth she had tended. She knew what to do.
Leaving the man and his wife to find their way to an inn, she ran to the house of old Rachel, the midwife, and barked until the woman awoke. The old woman knew what Tessa wanted. She grabbed the basket containing water and cloth and twine that she always kept ready and followed Tessa into the streets. They checked at several of the inns. Wherever they went they were told that the man and the woman were sent on to look for other quarters. Tessa was very angry. Couldn’t any of these people tell that a baby was about to be born? Finally across the town near the outskirts, they found the man and his wife in the cave behind the inn of the miser Juba. They didn’t even bother to knock on the door. They knew that Juba always sent late arrivals back to the stable and then charged them the full amount for a room in the morning.
Rachel grumbled at the fact that a child was to be born in this stable cave. When they entered the stable, Joseph was amazed to see a midwife had found them. When he heard that it was the dog, who led her to them, he laughed. “I’ve found many unusual friends tonight. God is watching this child being born and sending me the help I was promised.” He chuckled, “Not quite the help I expected, but good help at that.”
Tessa ran to the back of the stable and found the pile of sticks that the stable boy kept to play chase-the-stick with her. She piled them together near where the woman lay and she dragged rocks to surround them. She ran to the window of the inn kitchen and jumped the ledge into the kitchen. By doing this she startled the kitchen cat, who looked like he was having a bad night. She didn’t have time to ask the cat why. She grabbed at one of the lanterns that were still lit and leapt out the window carrying the lantern in her mouth. She brought the lantern to Rachel, the midwife, who lit a fire from the sticks to heat the water she brought in her basket.
Tessa lay quietly and watched Rachel as she had many times before. This time the man was not reluctant to help and aided Rachel in helping the birth of this child. Rachel exclaimed that it was a boy and for a moment everything was very quiet until the child screamed a baby’s cry letting everyone know that he was alive and healthy.
Although Tessa had seen many babies being born, this birth was different. The fire in the lantern seemed to glow brighter than it should, and there was a beautiful light that lit the faces of all the people and animals gathered in a circle to see the child. Tessa sensed that the bright light came from a different fire, an unseen fire that burned in the hearts of this man and this woman and this child.
Tessa thought of the old Rabbi and wondered if she was witnessing the new dawn that he had predicted. She realized as she watched that this child was the special one that had come to Bethlehem, and she felt the pride of being the watchdog, who waited for his coming.