The Christmas Story:
Glad Tidings for all Creatures
by Rev. J.R. Hyland [email protected]
During the holiday season, the Christmas manger scene is
an important symbol for those who believe that the birth of Jesus was
the birth of their Savior. It also has importance for those who are only
culturally Christian but view the nativity scene as another symbol that
takes its place along with mistletoe, holly, and Santa Claus.
But the real significance of the story of
an infant born in a stable is ignored by believers as well as by
non-believers. Although Christians give lip-service to the doctrine that
Jesus came to redeem all creation, most seem to think that "all
creation" means human beings. They hold to this chauvinistic belief in
spite of the biblical account that details the birth of Christ. They
ignore the profound implications of Luke's Gospel.
The birth of Jesus is a restatement of
the creation story. In the original Genesis account, animals were
created first and human beings were set in their midst and given
responsibility for their well-being. But after the Fall in Eden, people
began to abuse one another and all other creatures. The entire earth was
in need of redemption and the birth of Christ heralded a new beginning.
Christ was born in a stable. Like the first humans, he, too, was born
into a setting that already sheltered, and gave sustenance to, animals.
And the Gospel account continues this theme of human and animal
relatedness when it tells how an angel announced the birth of Jesus to
men who were out in the fields, caring for their animals.
"And there were shepherds living out in
the fields nearby, keeping watch
over their flocks at night. An angel of the lord appeared to them. 'Do
not be afraid...I bring you good news...This will be a sign to you: you
will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'"(Luke 2:
So it was that those chosen to be the
first to hear [and] know the good news of the coming of Christ were men
who cared for other creatures. The shepherds were the nurturing
caregivers who, in their time, were living in a way that most closely
approximated the peaceful accord between animals and men that God had
ordained at the creation.
The work of the shepherds who attended
Jesus at his birth was the antithesis of those whose work centered
around the slaughter of animals on the altars at Jerusalem. And Jesus,
who was welcomed into the world by men who protected and cared for
animals, never participated in the sacrificial rites of the Temple.
Neither did his disciples. Just as the beginning of Judaism was marked
by the rejection of human sacrifice in the time of Abraham, so the
beginning of Christianity was marked by the rejection of animal
sacrifice in the time of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of the call for
religious reform that had been given hundreds of years before, by the
prophets of Israel.
Although the significance of the
Christmas story is currently ignored by Christians of all persuasions,
the powerful symbols of infant and manger, animals and shepherds, and
peace on earth between all creatures, continue to be part of the ritual
observance of this holiday season. For those who care about animals and
also believe in a God who created life as we know it, the continued
telling of this story can be seen as a leaven that is gradually changing
the hearts and minds of women and men who, in increasing numbers,
understand that God's care and concern extends to all beings, not just
to the human race.
And those who care about animals but do
not believe in a Creator God -- or in any other deity -- can take heart
from the fact that the powerful symbols of human and animal relatedness,
incorporated in the Christmas story, continue to influence our culture.
Like all powerful symbols, they are a force affecting minds at the
unconscious level. And as the latent power of these symbols erupts into
consciousness, they can become a force for good.
So at this holiday season, let us each
renew our hope. There are forces, seen and unseen, that are working with
us to bring about a world in which no creature will suffer and die
because of the greed and rapacity of the human race. There are forces,
seen and unseen, supporting those who have been called to be part of the
spiritual evolution that is manifesting itself among those who
understand that care and compassion must be the hallmark of our
relationship with all God's creatures.
There are forces, seen and unseen,
working to make the Peaceable Kingdom a reality.
Copyright Humane Religion, 2000
Go on to True Peace
Return to 24 December 2000
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