Dec 22 2013

“Man and Beast Before Him Bow”

DSC_0130It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  That means Christmas Day and the Twelve Days of Christmas will soon be here.  For a number of reasons this holiday season has been very different for me.  One of the main reasons is my wife and I are still living in temporary housing.  It is a much smaller place than we have been used to and because of that we have done far less decorating than usual.  I won’t lie; I miss not seeing the decorations and trees I’ve been used to seeing for several years.  Still, it has been an enjoyable journey through the weeks of Advent.  More important to me than the decorations of Christmas is the music of this holy season.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of my Christmas CDs are still packed up at my home in Pikeville but I have nonetheless had plenty of opportunities to listen to the carols I love so much.  I don’t mind secular Christmas music but I tend to listen mostly to the songs that actually relate to our Savior’s birth.  So many wonderful songs have been written over the years that help us better grasp the meaning of Jesus’ coming into the world.

DSC_0117For some reason this year I’ve picked up on the number of songs that speak of animals being present at the Bethlehem stable.  It’s interesting how many do this, despite the fact that the Scriptures never directly indicate any were present.  Over the years we have simply assumed if there was a feeding trough, or manger, present for Mary to lay her child in that there must have been animals too.

My wife started collecting pieces of the Willow Tree nativity set a few years ago.  The pieces are not cheap so she’s been trying to add to it each year.  Yesterday I gave her an early Christmas present that included a shepherd from the series, along with a camel and two sheep.  With these additions we now have seven animals in our crèche.  I have to admit I like it better now that it has the additional animals.  It seems to me they belong there.

_CES2529One of the reasons I like the inclusion of animals in nativity scenes is that I believe they are an important part of Creation and that it only seems appropriate that when the Creator entered the world that they would be there to greet him.  The first chapter of John’s Gospel declares that on the first Christmas “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (v. 14)  It also says that “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (v. 3)  How very natural it would be to have both “man and beast” present to welcome the one who made us all.  When you add the apostle Paul’s thoughts found in Romans 8 that through Christ “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”  (v. 21) the presence of animals makes even more sense.  At the stable they could welcome not only their Creator but the one who would bring redemption to all Creation.

The theme for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is love.  Certainly we focus primarily on God’s love revealed to us through the birth of His Son but hopefully that theme can be broadened to remind us that all of Creation—humans and animals alike—owe Christ their love and adoration.  It may appear as utter nonsense or sentimentality to you but when I envision the animals gathered near the Christ Child I see them offering him just that, their love and adoration.  Their presence also calls me to question whether the rest of us will do the same.  I pray we will.

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures at Land Between the Lakes and the bottom one here where we are staying.)