One of my wife’s favorite Christmas carols is “Friendly Beasts.” It’s not one often heard on the radio or even downloaded of iTunes. In fact, many don’t even know the song even though it is in the United Methodist Hymnal. The song, originally written in the 12th century as a French carol, imagines the friendly beasts which surround baby Jesus the night he is born. It imagines the sheep, cows, doves and other animals surrounding Emmanuel that evening. Certainly the Gospels don’t record any such beasts. Yet, given Jesus was laid in an animal feeding trough (a manger), surely there were animals around. Nonetheless, in the carol, each beast speaks a line as to how they care for the new born Jesus. For instance, the sheep sings, “I said the sheep with curly horn, I gave him my wool for his blanket warm, he wore my coat on Christmas morn, I said the sheep with curly horn.” Thus, the song invites us to imagine those unmentioned characters that may have been around the time of Jesus’ birth.
One of my favorite though is the donkey. His line goes something like this, “I said the donkey, shaggy and brown, “I carried his mother uphill and down, I carried his mother to Bethlehem town,” I said the donkey shaggy and brown.” Each time I sing the donkey’s part, I am reminded of the great responsibility this humble animal had in carrying pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. Traveling from Nazareth would not have been an easy journey, and this friendly beast would have been conscripted to make that journey easier. Even more, this donkey carried none other than Mary pregnant with Emmanuel.
I am often struck by the similarity we play when it comes to our responsibility as people of faith. What if we were to re-imagine ourselves as this humble donkey that had great responsibility for delivering Jesus to his next destination with little or no recognition? After all, the donkey doesn’t do it to be noticed; it is simply what the donkey does. It’s natural to the donkey to carry loads upon his back. It’s the part this friendly beast plays in the narrative of God’s redemption through Jesus.
I wonder how Christmas might Christmas be different if we were to re-imagine our role and responsibility as disciples is to deliver Jesus to the places he is most needed without recognition. What if this just became a part of who we are? What might it look like to carry Jesus into the homes and lives who need him the most. Imagine the difference he could make in the lives of so many if we took him to the places he is most needs. That, to me, is a Christmas worth believing.