Christmas I – Nativity
2014 – Mass at Night
Isaiah 9 1-6; Psalm 96; Timothy 2: 11-14; Luke 2:1-14
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth—
Then God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.
And so it happened: God saw that it was good.
Evening came, and morning followed—the third day.
Then God said: Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures,
and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky.
God created the great sea monsters and all kinds of crawling living creatures with which the water teems, and all kinds of winged birds. God saw that it was good,…
Evening came, and morning followed—the fifth day.
Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature:
tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened:
God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good…” [Genesis 1:1, 11-13, 20-25]
Did you ever reflect that in terms of the Book of Genesis plant life was created on the third day; birds and sea creatures on the fifth day – just a day before humans – and mammals earlier the same sixth day as human beings. But in evolutionary terms the process that hatched the beautiful and complex plant and animal life on earth began 3 billion years ago while homo sapiens, modern humans only evolved between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Consider then that plant and animal life existed harmoniously and continued to evolve without human beings for billions of years. Not dependent on human beings but solely on God for their existence and sustenance, plant and animal life, all gloriously interwoven, proclaim the greatness and glory of God as Psalm 96 for the Masses of Christmas declares:
“Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea roar,… let the field exult…
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy” [Psalm 96:11-13]
We human beings are profoundly dependent on other species, thus the Book of Job instructs us to consult the creatures of the earth and to listen to the deep wisdom they impart to us. Job instructs:
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you;
[ask] the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
In God’s hand is the life of every living creature
and the breath of every human being. [Job 12:7-10]
What does creation have to do with Christmas?
We have populated the Christmas story and manger scenes with animals though they do not appear in the Gospel texts? Why? Because they have much to teach us.
We place in our manger scenes a donkey and an ox – breath, warm and moist over the child. Why? “Ask the beasts and they will teach you;…
The donkey and ox teach us to recall that God breathed and sustains warm and moist
life in each of us. The donkey is an animal of humility and peace. Jesus will ride a
donkey into Jerusalem six days before he will be put to death.
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you;…
The ox patiently laboured through all the ordinary aspects of farming that brought life to the community. Likewise Jesus is patient with us through our everyday meanderings of sin and goodness. Used for sacrifice to God, the flesh of the oxen was eaten just like we partake of Jesus’ flesh sacrificed for our salvation.
Sheep are mentioned in the fields at night. We have them join the shepherds at the manger: rams, ewes and lambs. Do you recall the prophecy of Isaiah on the Second Sunday of Advent? “Here comes with power the Lord GOD,…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.”
“Ask the beasts and they will tell you;…
The sheep teach us about God’s absolute care for us; providing for our needs, gathering us in times of pain and sorrow, carrying us when we cannot go forward.
Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [John 10:11]; prefiguring his death on the cross for us. Thus Paul proclaims, “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast…” [1 Corinthians 5:7-8]
And how can we forget the Advent testimony of John the Baptist when he sees Jesus coming toward him. We sing his words at every Eucharist. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29 & 36]
“Ask the beasts and they will declare to you;…
And then there are the lumbering camels, these great ships of the desert. They can travel great distances in the inhospitable deserts of heat and lack of vegetation. Camels fortify themselves with water as Jesus will have to fortify himself with God the Father and Spirit in the desert of Gethsemane and his Passion and crucifixion. In the desert you find yourself totally dependent on God for survival and transformation.
“Ask the beasts …” If we ask the beasts, they have much to reveal to us about God in Jesus.
The animals reveal to us this child was born for passion and death intertwined for our salvation. That “this Birth”, as the poet T.S. Eliot penned, “this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.” The animals reveal the mystery of Easter. That as we recall the human birth of Jesus it is the crucified and risen Christ in our midst through Word and Sacrament with whom we celebrate. The animals reveal their feeding trough, a manger, like hay Jesus will lie on our altar an eternal meal for humanity. The animals declare that we are all; whether colliding galaxies, stars being birthed, plants, sea monsters and creatures, birds of the air, tame, wild and crawling mammals and the star dust that is human beings; we are bound together in this redeemed universe.
If you desire to know about God; if you desire to know yourself – ask the beasts!