On this Christmas Eve, as usual, I am captivated by the animals in the Christmas story. Actually in the Biblical text only the sheep are mentioned, and that just in passing, as in “Shepherds keeping watch” over them.
But most manger scenes are not content with such constraints. Cows are added, and usually a donkey, standing over by the side after carrying Mary, delivering her safe to Bethlehem where she would deliver the Child.
Camels are on the way, plodding across imagined desert sands, bearing both the magi and their gifts. Cats are rare but sometimes there. Chickens are not unheard of. I always add sheep-tending border collies. At a friend’s house last week I saw a crèche that had penguins, raccoons, and a wolf and a bear looking over the manger.
So what shall we make of this imaginary population showing up? I would venture to guess that my friend and I are not the only ones to add characters to our nativities.
I believe this creature creativity reminds us of our deepest wisdom. As we proclaim that Emmanuel comes to us in our longing, we understand that our own joy is bound up in the joy of all creation. There is something in the human heart that knows that when the Creator comes to dwell with us, all creation takes note.
This Christmas, let’s be sure we have made room for the animals at the manger. God’s presence among us is not just about us. The truth is that as we sing our carols of peace and love, heaven and nature sing with us.