The Dog of Bethlehem

Rahkell-“She who is a friend to sheep.” Habib- “Happy.” Amahl- A boy’s name in the Holyland, and a tip of the hat to Menotti’s Christmas opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

  • * * * * *

Francis, who loved the animals
Made the first manger scene,
With ox and donkey, cow and lamb
but not a dog was seen.

Perhaps he knew in his saint’s heart
that some are called away
to guard the others through the night
In old times, and today.

  • * * * * *

There was a dog of Bethlehem
They called her good Rahkell.
She was a guardian of the sheep
who gathered as night fell.

Her master was a shepherd boy
His name Habib Amahl
She slept each day, but every night
She answered to his call.

For there are fierce and hungry things
That hunt the fields at night.
And so the dog must guard its flock
until the morning light.

Rahkell was raised among the sheep
from when she was new born.
She saw them as her family
And guarded them ‘til morn.

Good dogs like her watched o’er the sheep
that grazed the fields of Zion.
and sought and fought and chased away
The jackal, wolf and lion.

One evening came a burning flash
that lit the winter night.
It was an angel sent from God
The shepherds shook with fright.

“Fear not!” it said, “I come to say,
Tonight is born a king!”
Then other angels soon appeared,
His glory did they sing.

Amahl heard with the shepherd boys
This babe was in a barn.
And they must go and find him there
A king so humbly born.

The shepherds gathered round to talk
About what they must do.
For angels should not be ignored
Their words are always true.

And so they gathered up their things
To journey to the town. 
To see this wondrous new born king
Upon the straw laid down. 

Amahl said to his dog Rahkell,
When leaving for the manger
That she should stay among the sheep
And face down any danger.

The shepherds spent the night in town
The dog did what she must.
Until the boys came back from town
The sheep were in her trust.

Rahkell stood guard over her flock
and heard a jackal’s yip.
Her ears perked up, her eyes grew wide
By starlight they were lit.

She summoned up her deepest bark,
to hear it was to dread
the strength and courage of this dog-
The jackal turned and fled.

But then, much later in the night
A wolf’s smell did she sense.
It would take more than a loud bark
To be her lamb’s defense.

The wolf came in, it bared its teeth
And Rahkell showed her own.
She ran towards the fierce-some beast
To fight it, all alone.

The two came close, they snarled and snapped
They fought with one another.
At first the wolf was besting her,
But Rahkell soon recovered.

From deep within her loyal heart
She called her greatest power
And chased the hungry wolf away,
Rahkell had won the hour.

The sun arose that Christmas morn
The shepherds soon returned.
Rahkell was thanked for her brave deeds,
Now tired, she closed her eyes.

  • * * * * *

And that is why at Christmas time
we celebrate this birth,
with many different birth-place sets
of wood and stone and earth.

But never in these manger scenes
A dog is near the crib.
For love sometimes means being far
from home and kith and kin.

Remember those who stay away
And do so out of love.
Like dogs and other guardians:
God bless them from above.

Copyright Tony Greiner, 2023.
Please ask permission before using for anything other than personal use.

Tony Greiner

3 thoughts on “The Dog of Bethlehem”

  1. Loving this Rahkell and the intention with which she guards.
    I feel you’ve added one more must-read to our Christmas hearts.
    Too often life makes it so our loved ones are away.
    Regardless of miles that part us,
    family is truly with us in our hearts each and every day.

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