Animals: In the Right Place at the Right Time

Read Luke 2:1-7

Nativity scene with animals

It’s time to you use your imagination. Who would expect the King to be born in a filthy place where you’d find a manger? We don’t read about any animals being present, yet most nativity scenes have cows, sheep, and of course a donkey. Why a donkey? Because we have always pictured pregnant Mary riding on a donkey rather than making the 70 mile trek to Bethlehem on foot.

When you think of how all the pieces of this story have fit into place, it could only be God orchestrating it. We know from Micah 5:2 that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” How do they get there?

That’s a good question. How does a pregnant peasant girl, Mary, get from her home town of Nazareth to this obscure little village so she can have her baby? God caused a census to happen at that time. The earthly parents of God’s precious son would both be required to be in Bethlehem. It’s cool to see because we know how historically God has used very unusual sources for his purposes. This story is full of them.

dirty mangy sheep

Jesus arrives, and the animals look on. That’s where the imagination piece comes in since we don’t read about any animals in our text. But we do hear about the manger. Certainly it must have fed animals at one time or another. I like to picture this young couple being surrounded by animals who will help keep them warm. Assuming the climate hasn’t changed much over the past 2000 years, it would be in the 40-60 degree (Fahrenheit) range. Those nights would be a little chilly. Having the body warmth from some livestock could go a long way to warming up their surroundings.

So the animals (real or just imagined) would have had a front row seat to witness God’s incarnation. Imagine the honor! They are God’s creatures just as much as any other living being. Did they sense the miracle they were witnessing? Perhaps they were just oblivious while chewing their cud. But in my mind’s eye, they were rapt on what was happening, not wanting to miss a single moment. They were in the holy presence of God.

boy drumming

I suppose the song “The Little Drummer Boy” has fueled my imagination. Why? Because the lyrics say that “an ox and lamb kept time” to the drummer’s gift to Baby Jesus. I can just see their heads nodding to the beat. It’s almost as if the animals could sense the importance of this moment and want to also pay tribute to their creator.

Whether or not there were animals present, the environment Jesus first encountered outside the womb was not a pristine palace. God truly emptied himself of his grandeur and stepped down into our world. A baby’s first cry for any couple, in any place, at any time, is a welcomed miracle. For Mary and Joseph, it was so much more.

Take some time today to just think about what God accomplished in coming to earth. As a human! As a baby! Imagine being a fly on the wall, or on the ear of the donkey, as Jesus was born. I’m sitting here with chills at the thought. That’s God. Welcome him into your heart this Christmas as if it’s your first encounter!

Let’s pray … Lord, I am in total awe and wonder when I think about what you have done for us. I know that the cradle is just the beginning of the story. You came to rescue me. I want my life to reflect you and your ways. Help me to become more and more like you every day. Help me to understand how to take that journey and help others find the way as well. Thank you for the gift! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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