Danny’s Gift


The stars hung in the icy night like frozen teardrops above the Arizona desert mesa. Old mother moon rode high, clustering her starry children about her as if to warm their chilly faces. On the snow-crusted earth below, Danny Yazzi shivered in his worn jacket as he chanted a Navajo lullaby to the small band of sheep milling around him.

As Danny stamped his feet to keep warm, he thought of the mud hogan where his mother would be preparing mutton stew. His brothers and sisters would be playing about the black pot-bellied stove, turned a cherry red by the crackling fire, while his father pounded thin slices of silver into delicate bracelets and rings.

Danny whistled softly, and the white animals, shaggy with thick wool, began to move down the sloping side of the mesa, brushing against one another. Grazing time had ended for another wintry day, and now they turned homeward toward a corral.

As Danny began to move behind them, the sheep bells fastened about his waist jingled merrily. The sounds of the bells rang through the still night. Tonight the bells seemed to ring with a different tone. Even the animals seemed to listen to the new sweet sound of joy.

Danny’s thoughts went back to the day of his last Primary class. He and seven other Navajo children had sat before a tall slender missionary who told them the story of the birth of Jesus in a far-off land called Judea. Danny remembered Elder Johnson’s words and the way the young man’s eyes sparkled as he spoke. Danny also remembered how his heart had pounded with delight when the missionary told of the shepherds in the fields on that star-bright night long ago. Danny had thought about the story many times as he watched his own flock during the winter days of Christmas vacation.

Christmas! That word seemed so special to Danny now that he knew about Baby Jesus and that first Christmas night. The story of the Baby and the gentle shepherds who visited Him thrilled Danny as though he himself had stood guard that wondrous night. Danny shut his dark eyes, and the picture filled his mind—a manger, one bright star, the shaggy head of a donkey, a small newborn Child, and the white woolly curious sheep.

Suddenly the frantic bleating of a lamb brought Danny back to reality. He saw the small white animal struggling in the grip of a thorny cactus. The needles had thrust deep into the lamb’s wool and the animal was caught. Danny knelt beside the frightened lamb and gently began to remove the needles. It was slow work, but when the tiny lamb was finally freed, it rubbed its soft head against Danny’s knee in thanks. Then the lamb scampered off to join the flock already nearing the corral.

Danny’s moccasined feet moved quickly over the thin crust of snow as he saw the thick smoke rising from the small mud chimney. Soon he would be sitting in the warmth and light, and the chill of the night air would be forgotten as he snuggled beneath the heavy sheepskins on his bed.

The sheep bells jangled in time to Danny’s steady steps. Their Christmas magic took Danny back to the small classroom again, and he seemed to hear once more how Elder Johnson had finished the wonderful story. Danny could remember the tender words and the question that followed as the elder looked into the eager faces about him and smiled, saying, “Jesus loves you. How will you love Him?”

Danny sighed as he pondered those words for the hundredth time. What could he do to show the love and happiness that filled him when he thought of that first Christmas. He knew that money could purchase many gifts, but Danny had no money. “No,” he sighed to himself, “I have no money, and so I can give no gifts.”

Soon the sheep found their way into the protection of the corral and quickly began to bed themselves down. Danny closed the wooden gate and then paused for a moment. He looked carefully at the sheep, counting them to be sure they were all there. He knew that one lost sheep meant a return to the grazing grounds and a long search until the stray was found and returned.

The door of the hogan swung open, and Danny’s mother, dressed in her warm velvet blouse and long skirt, was watching for him. Her smile was gentle as she gazed out at her eldest child and waited for him as he entered the warm dwelling. With hands outstretched to the fire, Danny smiled at his younger brothers and sisters as they looked up from their play.

Danny’s father knelt in one corner of the small round room. His delicate hammers and chisels lay about him as he worked his skill on the silver and turquoise. Danny felt a thrill of pride as he watched the slender fingers molding and shaping the metal into beautiful jewelry.

But a pang of sorrow shot through Danny as he looked upon these faces that were so dear to him. What gift of love did he have to give?

“Danny,” his mother’s soft voice called. “It’s Christmas Eve. Your father and I met with some missionaries while you were away to school. What they have told us is good and feels right in our hearts.” She paused and glanced at Danny’s father.

The man stopped his work and looked up at his oldest son. The words he spoke were low and steady. “The elders have told us that you learned the story of the first Christmas while at school.”

The children stopped their play and gazed in admiration at their brother, who was learning many new things at the far-off school.

Danny felt a glow in his heart. He seemed to hear the joyous ringing of the sheep bells, and the picture of the manger and the gentle shepherds returned to him as he thought about the first Christmas. A voice seemed to whisper, “This is the gift of love you can give.” At last Danny knew what gift he could give to his beloved family!

Danny turned to his father, who gently smiled and then said, “We have been waiting for you. Come, my son, and tell us the story of Jesus.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Van Demark