The Last Straw
Based on a book by Fredrick H. Thury
and Vlasta van Kampen.
Christmas Eve Intergenerational Service
5:00 p.m. December 24, 1999
Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North
Original music to go with
The musical Anthem is called, "For You, For
The name slipped out of the wind as
it changed directions and sailed over the dunes of sand.
But Hoshmakatu, the old camel, was asleep in the desert night.
He dreamed of oasis’, of pools and
wells, of desert springs and enormous, camel-sized canteens.
And he dreamed of a hump large enough to hold oceans of water.
But the voices of the desert night
wind were not interested in Hoshmakatu’s dreams.
“Hoshmakatu!.... Hoshmakatu!.... You have been chosen... Great things depend on
you... Your strength and courage are needed this very night...
Hoshmakatu!........ Oh, for crying
out loud you blasted camel!
Hoshmakatu peeled back one eyelid from his slumber.
“Why should I wake up?” he grumbled.
“You have been chosen to make the journey to Bethlehem.
In that city something beautiful and
You will carry the gifts.”
“Why me?” whined the old camel as he opened both eyes.
“What have I done to upset
“There is a great need.
The wisemen... they have gifts
to offer a newborn child...
Is this some kind of joke?”
“It is no joke.
The wise men need your help...”
“Oh yeah,” scoffed Hoshmakatu, “If these guys are so wise, don’t they know
about my joints?
I’ve got carpel tunnel that would make an elephant cry.
What kind of gifts are we talking
How much do they weigh?”
The wind shifted uneasily back and forth.
Hoshmakatu felt a shiver run down
He had lived in the desert for nearly forty years.
Never had wind talked to him like
“I don’t know...” he began to excuse himself.
“See... I would....
really... I would... except I have so many other commitments.
There’s a water drinking
competition in Rangal I’ve been training for.
And then I promised I would
make an appearance at the cud-chewing convention in Beemish...”
A sudden torrent of wind cut off his voice.
Sheets of sand flew high in the air.
It whistled round and round almost
forcing Hoshmakatu to stand up right or be blown away.
For an instant, his hooves could not
even touch the ground.
Such an experience was very
Hoshmakatu felt it unsafe to
continue in his defiance.
“When do I start?” he asked carefully.
“Today,” the voice returned.
With that, the sand voices
disappeared, and it was morning.
We light this chalice
for the courage to tread into the dark places in our lives
for the insight to realize we are needed
and for the warmth and understanding we find along the way.
WELCOME AND GREETING
O Come, All Ye Faithful
HAND OF FRIENDSHIP
STORY PART II
It was still early as the servants of the wise men began placing their
precious gifts of Frankincense, myrrh and gold onto Hoshmakatu’s back.
Nearby, a small herd of sheep
noticed what was happening and came over to watch.
They had heard the stories from the
shepherds about the wisemen who had come to town.
Was this the camel who would carry
the gifts of thanks and praise?
From out of the crowd of sheep the smallest among them was nudged forward from the
“Go on!.... ask him!” was heard
above the shuffling of hooves.
“Uh.... Mr. Camel sir?
Excuse me, Mr. Camel?”
Hoshmakatu turned his head.
“Mr. Camel, sir... we heard you were the camel chosen to carry the gifts to
“Yeah... that’s right,” whined Hoshmakatu.
“I’m the luck - luck - lucky
one,” he moaned.
“You must be the wisest and strongest of all the camels...” exclaimed the
Hoshmakatu suddenly felt his chest
puff out and his head raise up into the air.
“....On account of your
being so old!” Hoshmakatu’s head dropped back down again.
“I AM very special,” Hoshmakatu insisted feeling a twinge in his back as they
loaded another package.
“And I’m not so old,” he said
as his sciatica kicked in and forced him to lean starboard.
“I can still carry as much as ten
horses,” he boasted as his ankles began wobbling a little.
Inside Hoshmakatu felt a little weak and unsure.
But he tried mightily to hide it.
He didn’t want the lamb to think he was just an ordinary, old, worn
“That is why I have been chosen to carry the gifts of the magi.”
“My name is Humbug.... Baaaaa Humbug.
Can I come with you, Mr. Camel, sir?
I won’t be any bother, and I’d
really like to say that I walked with the camel that carried the gifts of the
Hoshmakatu had no use of a lamb.
He could not help him carry
But something about her was
Her innocence was refreshing.
And if they really did make it all
the way to Bethlehem it would be nice to have someone else along who could boast
his accomplishments to the others.
“Humbug, I am an old camel.
And I am too old to start being nice
And I can’t imagine what it is
that makes you want to go.
But... if you promise not to be any trouble...” - Hoshmakatu stopped
and gave Humbug a stern camel look before continuing -“...you may walk beside me
if you wish.”
And that is how the long journey
JOYS AND CONCERNS
As Christmas time approaches, we all busily gather gifts for the people in
our lives whom we love most dear.
It is a way of recognizing and
honoring the importance of these people and what they give to us all year
They offer us love, hope and joy.
It is for these gifts that we find
ways to offer our gifts.
Let us take this time of Joys and
Concerns to offer the gift of thanks, the gift of sympathy and understanding to
those in our homes and in our hearts.
STORY PART III
Hoshmakatu and Humbug walked from morning till noon across the desert sand.
It was hot.
The old camel felt a little weary,
his joints ached and his hump was
But he seemed to be holding up.
The little lamb, on the other hand,
started to stagger a little.
Hoshmakatu asked the lamb.
....Never... better....Maybe a
little thirsty...” Humbug said wearily.
Hoshmakatu raised an eyebrow knowing
there was no water with them.
He thought this idea of a sidekick
might be a bad idea.
Camels are used to going without
He suggested they stop for a minute.
It was then Hoshmakatu and Humbug
spied a pack of wild goats coming toward them from the adjacent mountains.
The goats walked right up to the old
camel and inquired, “Are you Hoshmakatu, the camel?”
“I am Hoshmakatu,” he replied.
“What is it that you want?”
“We have heard you are carrying the gifts of the magi.”
“Yes, so....” Hoshmakatu responded.
Please take this milk we have collected.
It is only a humble offering, but it
is the very best we could do.
It is our gift to the child.”
“You want me to carry milk?” Hoshmakatu sputtered in shock.
“I am not a milk-bearing camel.
I am not like you!”
With that Humbug, feeling a little more lively by now, stood up and spoke,
He is not like you.
He is the strongest camel who ever
Why, he’s as strong as ten horses.
He could carry a hundred times more
milk than you have brought.”
Hoshmakatu stopped the young lamb, “Humbug!
You needn’t be bragging...” he
Then he sighed, felt the aching of
Saw the swelling from his gout.
Winced at the pain from his
“This journey will ruin me,” he
said silently to himself.
Then he raised his head and
gestured to the goats, “Give me your gift.
I will carry it to Bethlehem for
Delighted, the goats left, and Hoshmakatu continued on with Humbug.
At one o’clock they caught up with
a family of three millers.
Each of them carried a large sack of
“Look, Mr. Camel, Sir!” Humbug blurted out.
Do you suppose they’re going to
Bethlehem like us?
Hey you guys... over here!
Here’s the strongest camel who
He is going to Bethlehem!
He can carry your grain for you!
The millers all rejoiced in their good fortune and began piling the sacks of grain
onto Hoshmakatu’s back.
“For a little guy, you sure have a big mouth!” whispered the old camel.
“Did you say something, Mr. Camel, sir?”
“I said,” explained Hoshmakatu, “that your enthusiasm for my strength is
quite.... ugh... inspiring.”
As the two animals continued through the desert, word spread about the strength of
the camel carrying all the gifts to Bethlehem.
People began to gather from all the neighboring towns and villages to
meet Hoshmakatu and Humbug as they made their way.
At two o’clock several women gave Hoshmakatu a bundle of their finest silks.
At three o’clock an old man in fine clothes gave him two rare birds in silver
At four o’clock, a group of bakers gave him baskets of their finest sweetmeats
At five o’clock some merchants gave him pillars of oak that were carried all the
way from Lebanon.
By six o’clock, a long line had formed of people bringing their gifts to the old
There were jars full of honey and
baskets of money.
There were jewels and beads and
large rolls of leather.
And on top of it all there was
twenty gallons of wine!
They loaded and they tied.
They fastened and they secured.
It was an enormous load.
One could scarcely see any camel
behind the mountain of gifts he carried.
“I don’t think I will make it,” Hoshmakatu moaned to himself.
“I can carry no more.
My legs are getting weaker.
This journey will be my ruin!”
But even as the old camel moaned to himself, Humbug beamed with amazement and
pride with each gift that was mounted on to the old camel’s back.
“You are indeed the strongest
camel who ever lived.
I knew you could do it.
Others may have doubted you -
indeed, you may have doubted yourself - but I knew you could do it.”
And as Hoshmakatu gazed into the
young lambs eyes he felt a strength that belied everything his old body was
He looked out toward the desert and
the miles he had to go, he took a deep breath, and stepped forward toward the
Haven’t we all found ourselves facing something too big to handle?
Something too heavy to bear?
Some kind of enormous burden?
Maybe figuring out how to read.
Or learning long division.
Or making friends in a new place.
Maybe for you it’s doing all the
shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping and traveling for the holidays.
We’ve all stood under heavy loads.
But occasionally we find, there, in
the very deepest part of our despair, a voice, a person - some reminder - that we
are really more than we thought we were.
There is more to us than we figured
Maybe we can do what we had thought
Maybe we are stronger, braver,
nicer, more patient, more resourceful than, even, we
It’s in these moments that we
discover something new in us.
And a new, fuller, understanding of
ourselves is born.
“Silent Night” on the piano]
STORY PART IV
One step at a time,
Hoshmakatu and Humbug began the slow march to Bethlehem.
The next few hours of the journey were arduous and painful.
But the old camel made his way
silently, careful not to stop for fear that he could not begin again.
Humbug walked beside him, although
she frequently fell behind from thirst and fatigue.
She tried as best she could to keep up.
Hoshmakatu, as well, often found himself taking slower, smaller steps.
But the compromise in the old
camel’s pace seemed more likely the work of compassion rather than exhaustion.
As the sun sank over the edge of the desert, a lonely silhouette of a figure
traced over the sand toward the travelers.
“Excuse me,” a small shepherd called to them.
“I have heard of a camel - the
strongest camel in the world - who would be passing this way...”
“NOOOOOOO!” Hoshmakatu cried.
“You’ve got the wrong camel.
I am merely helping my cousin move a
few meager belongings to his new condominium.
I am not the one you’re looking
I hope you find him though.
Well, be seeing ya...”
Humbug took that moment to cough a rather raspy, indignant cough.
Hoshmakatu looked down at his hooves
for a moment feeling a little ashamed at his fib.
But he also felt the weight of the
load on his back.
His joints ached.
His sciatica was flaring up, and his gout was killing him.
“I have heard Hoshmakatu is his name...” the young shepherd continued.
Another cough came from Humbug.
“Look, I am Hoshmakatu, but I can’t help you.
I can’t carry anymore gifts.
I have more than I can bear already.
“I am only a poor shepherd.
I have no possessions, myself.
But on the hillside I have a good
place to sleep that brings me great comfort.
It is a gentle place to rest my head
and my flock can gather ‘round me.
Together we are warm and we have
I have heard a child is born, alone,
in a city not far from here.
I wanted the child to know there is hope... and warmth... and
comfort in this world.
I wanted to offer a gift....”
“I knew it!
That’s just great!” screamed
“It is straw from my bed... in hopes that he, too, may rest his head in
“I cannot carry bales of hay.... I already have too much!”
“It’s only one piece of straw...
please...” the shepherd pleaded.
Another cough came from Humbug.
Hoshmakatu looked into the small
“Okay.... BUT THAT’S THE LAST STRAW!
YOU WILL BREAK MY BACK WITH ANYMORE
GIFTS!” the old camel wailed.
“Place it behind my ear.
I will give it to the child.”
Hoshmakatu lowered his head and the shepherd placed the slender piece of straw in
the folds of his ear.
Hoshmakatu raised up again, feeling
like he was now carrying twice the load he was a few minutes ago.
He strained and groaned as he stood.
And as he was about to continue on
his way, the shepherd called out:
“Excuse me, sir...” the shepherd cried.
“What is it?” huffed the old camel.
“I told you that was the last
“Your lamb has fallen.
I think she is ill.”
Hoshmakatu turned and saw Humbug laying on her side.
“HUMBUG!” cried the camel as he stepped over to where the shepherd
knelt over her.
“She needs attention.
It would be best for her to go into
Bethlehem where there are shepherds more knowledgeable than I.
But it doesn’t look like she can
“I WILL CARRY HER!” Hoshmakatu insisted.
“But...” Humbug protested weakly.
“You cannot fight against my will, little lamb.
Have you not figured out by this time that I am the strongest camel in
“You... don’t .. need... ---”
“Nonsense!” declared Hoshmakatu.
“Climb on my neck.
I will get you to Bethlehem.”
The shepherd helped Humbug climb onto the gift bearing camel.
It took every ounce of strength left
in the old camel’s body to stand again.
He ached and his cries filled the
desert night as he struggled to take his first step. His joints burned with pain.
His back felt as though it would
shatter with every movement.
Nevertheless, for the first time
since his journey began, Hoshmakatu had no doubts about where he was going or what
he must do.
HYMN # 168
One More Step
One more step
We will take one more step
‘till there is rest for us and for every-one
We will take one more step
One more word
We will say one more word
‘till every word is heard by every-one
We will say one more word
One more prayer
We will say one more prayer
‘till every prayer is shared by every-one
We will say one more prayer.
One more song
We will sing one more song
‘till every song is sung by every-one
We will sing one more song.
STORY PART V
The night was as black as ink when they started toward Bethlehem.
Hoshmakatu had to squint to see
In between his glimpses into the
horizon, he would put his head down so as to focus every muscle, every nerve,
every ounce of energy into taking the next step.
Several more hours passed this way.
“Hoshmakatu...” came the voice behind the old camel.
“Yes, my friend,” he said as he kept walking.
“You didn’t need to take me with you.
I would have been all right.”
“Maybe.... maybe not,” Hoshmakatu replied.
“But I needed to take you just the
“Why is that?”
questioned the tiny voice behind
“Because I could,” he responded.
“And because... I don’t know.
I just needed to.”
There was a few moments of silence.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” the voice behind him returned.
“What?” asked the old camel.
As if by instinct, Hoshmakatu raised
There, in the sky, just above the
horizon, was the brightest star he had ever seen.
It was nearly blinding to look at.
It sparkled and gleamed and brought
light to the whole sky.
Just below the star stood the small
town of Bethlehem, so directly in its line one could have sworn the star itself
were charting the course.
“Oh my!” whispered Hoshmakatu.
“Yes,” the little voice whispered.
Hoshmakatu did not know from where his strength was coming.
But at that point, he no longer
doubted their arrival.
It was simply a matter of time.
Indeed, the whole journey seemed
like it was a matter of time.
Hadn’t he waited his whole life
for something this worthy to take him somewhere so important.
Perhaps it had always been a matter
Perhaps, as well, a matter of need.
Across the last few dunes the old camel carried his load.
His back and legs ached and he could
scarcely summon enough water from his body to scrape together one more swallow.
But all old Hoshmakatu could think
about was time.
So much time.
Time he had wasted sitting around in
the desert, waiting, watching his life pass him by.
Never even considering the journey which had just changed his life.
These were his thoughts as he walked into the small town.
In his eyes collected the water his
throat could not find. In his fatigue he felt the strength he’d never known.
In his wasted life he felt
redemption approaching with each step.
In his loss he felt a presence of
The star continued to make everything nearly as bright as day.
Hoshmakatu saw people and animals
gathered in the hay outside a small inn. As he walked toward them, the people and
animals stared in amazement at the load of gifts he had carried.
Such a load had never been carried
by any beast.
Exhausted, he knelt before a woman
and her child.
And as everyone began giving the
gifts the old camel had brought, Hoshmakatu placed his weary head next to the baby
and breathed a sigh of relief.
We come from many places, traversing many types of darkness, working
unimaginably hard to make sure that in our common spaces, something beautiful is
able to happen.
We will now receive this evening’s
Hoshmakatu’s eyes closed even before his chin came to rest in the soft
pile of hay next to the child.
A hand reached out and patted his
It was the small hand of a child.
“Thank you, Hoshmakatu, for bringing this piece of straw.
It was the last one I needed to
sleep in comfort and peace.”
Hoshmakatu opened his eyes.
There, in the straw, just in front
of her mother’s lap, lay the child.
The child, in a familiar way, cast a
knowing glance back at Hoshmakatu.
That face... was it not the same
face as the shepherd he had met on the way?
The one who gave him the straw?
It must be, he was almost certain.
Just as certain as he recognized the
face of the lamb laying beside them.
A few feet away, next to the mother
and child, lay Humbug, asleep.
“We made it, my friend,” Hoshmakatu whispered to the lamb.
Now the shepherds will care for you
and you will be well.”
“How is it that you talk to this little lamb as if you knew her?” asked the
old donkey standing to the side.
“This is Humbug.
She is my friend.
I carried her through the desert
when she fell ill and could no longer walk,” explained Hoshmakatu to the
“I think your journey has made your more tired than you realize,” the donkey
“This lamb was born here
With her first steps she wandered
over to the child and fell asleep next to her in the hay.
“But.... but... that cannot be!” objected Hoshmakatu.
It was then that the little lamb opened her eyes.
Without anyone words spoken, the old camel heard, again, the voice
which had guided him to the manger.
“I told you I would be all right,
But you were right.
You had to take me with you.
Though you may not be able to say
why, you had to carry me.
It was for you, not for me.”
Almost in the very same breath, in the very same voice, Hoshmakatu heard the child
speak those very same words, “It was for you, not for me.”
And with a rustling of the hay, the desert wind kicked up another familiar voice,
“It was for you, not for me.”
At that moment, one of the wisemen came over to the old camel with a large basin
which he filled with water and pushed in front of Hoshmakatu.
“For you, my friend.
You earned it.”
Hoshmakatu bowed his head and drank.
HYMN # 251 Silent Night
The story is, that although Hoshmakatu was already an old camel before he
made the journey, he lived an unbelievably long time afterwards.
There are some who say he never
died, but instead continues to live on in the desert befriending people who make
the journey into the darkness.
Some say he continues to carry those
who are lost or unsure toward the Christmas they long to see.
If, at some point this evening
you feel lost, and don’t know what to do, perhaps he will find you and take you
where you need to go.
If you find yourself acting with
uncommon spirit and kindness this season, perhaps he already has.
Merry Christmas to all.
[Postscript - I dedicate this story, lovingly, to my Dad.
Growing up, I watched as my whole
family made the most of some imperfect moments.
Accepting burdens, they took much
time and found many ways to turn them into gifts.
Indeed, there was a good deal of
magic amidst the mayhem.
But no one ever carried so great a
load or made such a difference as my father, though I sometimes doubt whether he
realizes just how great!
I know he would read these words and say, “Well, I don’t know about
But I know.
Merry Christmas to him, and to all