The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Christmas Eve - Blessing of the Crèche & Sung Mass
December 24, 2017, 4:30 p.m
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Were animals really present at the Nativity? (And does it matter?)
This is the title of an article I read earlier this month written by Father John Alexander, Rector at Saint Stephen’s, Providence. Fr Alexander asks this question after surveying depictions of our Lord’s Nativity. From crèches to Christmas cards to Christmas carols and classic pieces of art, so many of these include animals as part of their Nativity story. However, in Luke’s Nativity passage, we don’t hear any mention of animals present at the birth of Jesus. No sheep, ox, or donkeys. Yes, we’re told that the angels rushed to visit the newborn child but no mention of their animals coming along with them.
So, where there animals present at the Nativity?
I don’t know, I wasn’t there... but I hope there were. I hope there were sheep, oxen, and donkeys. I hope there were camels, birds, and even dogs. Why not?
If you were to visit my parent’s apartment, you would notice that my mother’s Nativity scene includes dogs, llamas, and alpacas. What can I say, we’re from the Peru — the original breeding ground for llamas and alpacas.
I hope there were all kinds of animals and people, more than just the shepherds. I hope all of creation was made aware of ours Lord’s Nativity and present if at all possible, animals and humans alike, all present to see the glorious act we celebrate today — God became human.
If we really wanted to, we could go down a long list of the “what ifs” and various possible details of our Lord’s Nativity and explore their historical reality and presence. However, the reason for the season of Christmas, the reason for this day, regardless of who was present or not, is that God was and is present. In Bethlehem and here in New Haven. God became human and took on flesh.
Mary became the mother of God. Joseph became the guardian of the incarnate word. What was present at the Nativity was God’s very self. God’s very love made flesh in the person of Jesus.
Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God does not take on the form of a human or adopt some poor person’s body for a while, but takes on flesh becoming fully human just like us. Born from a woman, God enters the world as a newborn infant — fragile and vulnerable. In the Incarnation, God joins our humanity not merely the creator but as a participant in everyday life. Through the Incarnation, God shares in our joys and pains. In the blessings and challenges of this life. In moment of joy with friends and tearful moments of loss and pain.
In the Incarnation, God takes on flesh reminding us of the beauty in all of creation, yes, from animals to humans. Regardless whether they were really present at the Nativity.
As we celebrate this glorious day, whether with presents and great food or in prayer and song, let us remember the glorious act of God’s love. God took on flesh to redeem all of creation. Glory be to God on high. May you have joyous and merry Christmas!