Friday, December 24, 2010
It is comforting to think of the presence of animals in the story of the Nativity. Accounts of the Christmas story vary widely; there were few eyewitnesses to the event, and the story has been enhanced over the centuries. Some historians believe that the image of the creche, surrounded by animals, was created by Francis of Assisi as a theological metaphor. NPR recently visited a traditional Christmas pageant in Texas, and looked at the accuracy and conflicting biblical records of the Nativity, and questioned the modern depiction of the event using animals. (All Things Considered, December 23, 2010)
Whether you accept the Nativity story on faith, or relegate it to the pages of myth, the actual or symbolic presence of sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and other creatures, is an image of quietude and peace, as they gather, still and silent, around the crib of a baby that symbolizes a new beginning of hope.
Our holiday tree is once again filled with figurines of dogs, birds, rabbits, and many other creatures. Animals are child-like in their unassuming innocence, their instincts, and their often trusting dependence on us to care for them and fulfill their needs.
Even though this is a difficult time for many, if not most people, if we can re-think of this increasingly commercialized and cynical holiday season as a time to focus on the care of the innocent creatures around us, then the season once more provides warmth and meaning.
As bad as the world often is, as long as I have people to love and who accept what I can give, who affirm me and keep me from feeling alone, and as long as there are animals in the world, it is a world I still want to be a part of. The Nativity scene, complete with its animals, reminds me of that. That is my quiet, personal celebration of the season. That is my wish for my friends. That would be my gift if I could give it.
Good Christmas to you all.