The young couple had made their usual hurried pre-Christmas visit to the little farm where dwelt their elderly parents with their small heard of goats. The farm had been named Lone Pine Farm becuase of the huge pine which topped the hill behind the farm and through the years had become a talisman to the old man and his wife and a landmark in the countryside.
The old folks no longer showed their goats for the years had taken their toll, but they sold a little milk and a few kids each year. And the goats were their reason for joy in the morning and contentment at day's end.
Crossly, as they prepared to leave, the young people confronted the old folks: "Why do you not at least dispose of the Old One? She is no longer of use to you. It's been years since you've had either kids or milk from her. You should cut corners and save where you can. Why do you keep her anyway? " The old man looked down as his worn boot scuffed at the barn floor and his arm stole defensively about the Old One's neck as he drew her to him and rubbed her gently behind the ears. He replied softly, "We keep her because of love. Only because of love." Baffled and irritated, the young folks wished the old man and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward the city as darkness stole through the valley.
So it was that because of the leave taking, no one noticed the insulation smoldering on the frayed wires in the old barn. None saw the first spark fall, none but the Old one. In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a cry of horror and despair, the old man shouted to his wife to call for help as he raced to the barn to save their beloved goats. But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing heat drove him back. He sank sobbing to the ground, helpless before the fire's fury.
By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking, glowing ruins were left -- and the old man and his wife. They thanked those who had come to their aid. And the old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon his shoulder as he clumsily dried her tears with a frayed red bandana. Brokenly, he whispered, "We have lost much, but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas. Let us, therefore, climb the hill to the old pine where we have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down upon our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared."
And so he took her by the hand and helped her up the snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back of his hand. As they stepped over the little knoll at the crest of the hill, they looked up and gasped in amazement at the incredible beauty before them. Seemingly, every glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pine. And it was aglow with heavenly candles, and poised on its topmost bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like spun glass. Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas tree such as this. Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of wonder and incredible joy as he pulled his wife forward. There, beneath the tree, was their Christmas gift.
Bedded down about the Old One, close to the trunk of the tree, was the entire herd, safe. At the first hint of smoke, she had pushed the door ajar with her muzzle and had led the goats through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping daintily through the snow. The kids were frightened and dashed about. The skittish yearlings looked back at the crackling, hungry flames and hoped like rabbits. The milkers pressed uneasily against the Old One as she moved calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now she lay among them and gazed at the faces of those she loved. Her body was brittle with years, but the golden eyes were filled with devotion as she offered her gift -- because of love. Only because of love.
(And so, my friends, I hope you all experience many blessings as we all get ready for the holidays)