By Melissa McLaughlin

Clop, clop, clop. I still remember the sound. As a child, I loved horses. I read books about horses. I drew sketches of horses. At night, I dreamed of horses. Then one year, the unthinkable happened, my parents gave me a Shetland pony for Christmas. What more could a girl hope for?

We lived on a wooded hillside in Pennsylvania’s lush green farming area. My dad built a small barn at the edge of our land, using trees he had cut and hewn for the beams. That little brown barn was handmade and heart-made. Just big enough for a pony stall, with storage space for hay and a fenced-in area extending into the woods for exercise. The neighboring vet was a friend of my parents and offered the pony to us for free from his small herd of pets.

I soon learned to ride the pony by myself and enjoyed trotting through the yard and woods. Just above our property was a hiking trail through the forest that was perfect for leisurely rides with my pony. I was always astonished at the way he could tromp on the trail without ever tripping over a rock. Sure and steady, he clop, clop, clopped along.

As I pause to imagine the details of the Christmas story, told in Luke chapter 2, I can’t help but think of the sound of the donkey’s hooves. Clop, clop, clop. The steady rhythm of its feet, like the comforting sound of God’s blessings carrying us along, step by step.

I envision Mary, a young teen, pregnant with the Son of God. Full of wonder. Full of questions. Full of ponderings. By a move of the Holy Spirit, she was carrying the child who would be King. The child who also would be Savior. The love of a mother’s heart toward her child still moved her to sing lullabies to him, to smile when he laughed, to wipe his tears when he fell. But this mother knew a deeper love would bind their hearts. A love we all can share. For before that day He returns as King, He must first die as Savior.

On the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, she must have listened to sounds as they traveled. The sounds of the wind brushing past. The sounds of birds in the fields twittering at the new day. Perhaps the bark of a stray dog or two. Sometimes a soft conversation with Joseph, her betrothed. But through it all, over and over, went the clop, clop, clop of the donkey’s hooves.

The sound of a horse’s hooves reminds me of gentle rain falling on the roof, when I am inside the house, safe and warm. The rain is from God and it is good. Each drop, a reminder that God is our provider. Each drop, a reminder that He sustains us with living water and yet covers us with loving protection.

The sound of the donkey’s feet plodding along must have brought Mary a similar comfort. Each footstep a reminder that God was leading them onward. Each footstep a reminder that God will make a way. Each footstep a reminder that God cares for the great needs, like a Savior for our sins, and for the small needs, like the weary body of a young pregnant girl.

May we listen to the sounds of God’s steady beating heart, that beats with love toward us. May we count our blessings one by one. Remembering that in the rhythms of life, God provides. He has given us the ability to think, speak, walk, talk, read and write. He has provided the family, friends, opportunities, open doors, education and experiences that allow us to have a job. So every dollar we “earn” comes first from God, our Provider. The clothing we wear, the food we eat, the water we drink, the soap and water for washing, the roof over our heads. It all comes from God. All blessings of love. Blessing after blessing after blessing.

Yet over and above all other blessings is the sound of heavenly peace. Peace that was won for us by God Himself. For God came in the form of a humble child, to live the life we should have lived and to die the death we deserved to die. Defeating sin, hell and death in one fell swoop.

Our Savior is born! Our Savior is born! Our Savior is born! And because He lives, I can face today, tomorrow and forever, for He is the sound of joy unspeakable. He is the sound of love unimaginable. He is the sound of peace unshakable. The forgiveness Jesus won for us at the cross echoes in our hearts over and over through all eternity!

There are other sounds of joy at Christmas, for sure. The sound of Christmas carols sung at your door. The sound of children squealing with surprise. The sound of laughter over a family meal. The sound of gifts being given and shared and unwrapped. The sound of the Christmas story being read once again. The sound of stars twinkling in the winter sky, not heard, yet rejoicing along with all creation. Glory to God in the highest!

As we think through the sounds of joy at Christmas, may it be like the sure and steady clop, clop, clop of the donkey’s hooves that carry us toward the Christ child. One step at a time, God draws us closer with His kindness, His truth, His grace, His loving correction, His tenderness and His patience. May the blessings of God, both great and small, fill us with joy that overflows, sending reverberating sound waves of joy to those around. Repeat, repeat the sounding joy! For our Savior is born. And we will never be the same!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

~Lyrics by Isaac Watts

Additional Resources:

“Joy to the World” sung by Nat King Cole

Going Beyond Ministries By Priscilla Shirer

Peace on Earth! But What Kind of Peace did Jesus Bring? By Melissa McLaughlin

Feeling Sad at Christmas? 4 Ways to Overcome By Melissa McLaughlin