Every year as Christmas approaches, among the various gripes of Christian Twitter, someone is sure to point out that – actually – there are no animals mentioned in the scriptural narratives of Christ’s birth. No Little Donkey. No camels. No oxen, or asses, or sheep. And yet, however unscriptural, the various creatures in various combinations continue to appear on stage in school halls and churches everywhere. And very cute they are too.
I love the animal characters in nativity plays, in paintings and picture books. Not just because of the ‘aaah’ factor, and the potential for unintended comedy. But also, far more importantly, because of the message they give, the message conveyed in today’s picture and reflection: it’s not all about us. We humans are not the only players in the drama of salvation.
There is a very personal, very person-centred narrative of salvation: Jesus came to save me (and you, and whoever else…).
And there is a cosmic narrative of salvation: God in Christ is drawing all things – every living thing, all creation, the universe – inexorably to Godself. And I, even I, get to be part of that movement.
It’s the latter narrative that gets me out of bed in the morning, that keeps me going and calls me on. And that’s why I think the animals in the nativity have something to say to us (something more than “baa”, “moo”, etc). They remind us that we, and our salvation, are part of a much, much greater picture.
#adventbookclub runs from 1st December until Epiphany. This year we are using “The Art of Advent” by Jane Williams, and raising some money for Mercy UK, a mental health charity over at the JustGiving page here. Search #adventbookclub on Twitter or Facebook to join in the conversation.