Animals of Advent
Last summer we planted a new tree in our backyard to give us some shade (and to mark my 60th birthday). I carefully selected it from the nursery and had them plant it properly and I continued to water it thoroughly until it was time for the leaves to fall. Right around the time of leaf raking, I suddenly noticed to my horror that all but about an inch strip of bark had been scraped off of its little three inch diameter trunk. Who in the world would take a potato peeler to my tree? But then it quickly occurred to me that it must have been a buck rubbing the velvet off his antlers. Just when we thought we didn’t have to worry about deer damage anymore because the growing season was over for our garden and plants, the deer still manage to do their dirty work. I must say, I felt a little less sorry for them this year during hunting season.
As much as animals can sometimes do damage, or just be a nuisance, I do love them and I’m guessing that you do as well. It’s a joy and wonder to watch the squirrels, birds, and rabbits in our yards, or on our hikes, or whenever we get into the great outdoors, doing whatever they do to survive and thrive. We love those rare occasions whenever we happen to see a fox, or a coyote, or a raccoon, or a turtle, or even a possum. As much as we might be afraid of them, it’s still kind of thrilling to run across a snake, or an exceptionally large bug, or as I did in Florida a couple weeks ago, an alligator. Of course, the animals that we’re most fond of are the ones in our family – our pets! Many a dog or cat owner (or maybe a horse or hamster owner) have seen them as their fur-babies and consider them to be like their kids. Certainly many a household this Christmas will hang stockings by the chimney with care not just for people but for pets.
It’s actually rather appropriate to include animals in our Advent celebrating because in several places the Bible includes them in both the prophecies and the accounts of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. His coming into the world (especially for the second time) is anticipated by the prophets when: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6-7).
While the Gospels don’t say it explicitly, it’s a pretty good assumption that while Jesus was within the womb of His mother He rode on a donkey into the city of Bethlehem, in anticipation of the day in which He would ride a donkey Himself into the city of Jerusalem where He would suffer and die on the cross for our sins. And, of course, when there was no room in the inn on the night in which Jesus was born in the City of David, His infant body, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was laid in a manger – an animal feeding trough! Again, the Gospels don’t say it explicitly, but it’s a pretty good assumption that Jesus’ manger bed was in a stable of some sort, and that it was already occupied with animals, both those who happened to be in there at the time, and others who perhaps simply left their odiferous “calling card.” No wonder Christmas carols sing of the “Son of God of humble birth.”
St. Paul reminds us that humans are not the only ones adversely affected by the fall into sin, for all “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). All of creation has indeed been liberated through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this liberation will be fully celebrated when He returns to earth on the last day to right all wrong and end all suffering for all of creation. For this reason we join with the psalmist in declaring, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).