I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans 8:37-39)
In the Christmas children’s book by Eve Bunting, entitled, “We Were There: A Nativity Story”, she illustrates how the least expected animals very likely also attended the birth of Jesus: a snake, a frog, a scorpion, a cockroach, a bat, a spider and a rat.
It is written from the perspective of these least likely characters who shared the stable with the more popular donkeys, sheep and cows — how they travelled far and wide, like the Magi from the East; expressing their excitement and anticipation for being there, at the birth of Jesus.
Eve Bunting concludes with a note of criticism levelled against mainstream society, so to speak. She writes:
No one will look beyond the light to darkness
and the corner where we watch, unwatched.
They will not know or care.
But we were there. (1)
Indeed, we have made the story of Christ’s birth into a Hallmark scene, adding gently falling snowflakes, twinkling stars, softly rolling landscapes and passive characters staring piously into a glowing, impeccably clean, surreal-looking feeding trough.
But not just the cutest sheep, the solemn cow, the neighing donkey so familiar in the re-telling of the Christmas story through the centuries. But also the rats, spiders, scorpions, cockroaches, frogs, bats and snakes. They were there, too!
Today we remember Brian — loving father, brother, uncle and friend. He died during the twelve days of Christmas. The Christmas season invites us to reflect on the meaning of God’s approach to us all, in the context of Christ’s birth.
In imagining the traditional nativity scene, and considering who else might have been there (thank you, Eve Bunting!), I couldn’t help but bring to mind the story about Brian bringing an injured bat home in a shoebox one day, in order to nurture it back to health.
We might think it somewhat odd to do something like that. And yet, Brian was demonstrating, I would say, a Godly compassion for all God’s creation — even the least likely creatures. Something in his nature pulled him to care for these.
In her Christmas children’s story, Eve Bunting makes a deep, theological point and reflects something important about God. After all, the king of kings, the Messiah, was born not in a regal palace in the city among the righteous in the religious establishment. No, the Son of God was born in a stable for animals in a feeding trough surrounded by the lowly, the riffraff of society, you might say.
We say we worship “Almighty” God. We probably should say more often, to be truthful: “All-vulnerable” God. What Christians through the centuries have argued as one of the most important events of history when God entered our world a vulnerable, human baby that first Christmas — means that not only the ‘perfect’ ones, the popular ones, the successful ones, the ‘deserving’ and strong ones belong at Jesus’ side.
The Christmas story is really about the most common people and imperfect situation imaginable, including the lowly-status shepherds, a teenage, un-wed Mom and visitors from a far-away, foreign land. God was born as one of us in this world, among the animals and in a poor family, showing that in all of creation there is something good and worthy. Everything belongs. Everyone belongs.
There is nothing in all creation that will separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus. This is the greatest Christmas gift we are given.
Hymn: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
1 – Eve Bunting, “We Were There: A Nativity Story” (Clarion Books, New York, 2001)