The Animals

Photo by Jeff Brown

Now that I’ve got our nativity stable in place, and I’m reaching back into the box for Mary, or Joseph, or the tiny manger crib, I can hear the memory of my children asking, “But what about the animals?”

During the annual retelling of the “no room in the inn”, my kids would often interrupt to ask about the fate of the animals who may have given up their home on that first Christmas night. I usually responded with a variety of fast-talking half-answers:

Oh, we’re not sure it was actually a stable, it could have been another type of small shelter, so maybe there were no animals around. Now listen up to hear what happened next…

Maybe the owner’s stable was brand new and he didn’t have any animals yet. Anyway…

Well, if there were animals, I’m sure they were happy to make room for Jesus. Let’s turn the page...

Our nativity set does include a few animals, but I rarely unpack them. Our table is small and my time is precious, so let’s get to the point, right? And honestly, who wants animals cluttering Christmas, anyway?

Now, who would like to place Mary and Joseph in our nativity this year?

I’ve never been a fan of animals. Sure, I can appreciate the beauty in some, and the strength or power in others. And I do enjoy my dog (sometimes). But for the most part, I find them a bit gross and scary. I’ll keep my distance, thanks.

I’ve also never been a fan of interruptions or sidetracks. Like animals, they feel chaotic and messy. Looking back, I wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate to have four children in nine years.

Motherhood and I eventually fell in love, but if she were friendlier to Order and Efficiency, then maybe we would have been faster friends. Old thoughts and memories resurface along with the newspaper-wrapped figures in my box:

I rushed my kids too much. I should have been more present and willing to linger with their curiosities. I wish I would have provided more thoughtful answers to their questions.

A great big carton of Christmas spirit doesn’t stand a chance to a whiff of regret. I push both aside. Anyway…

I start to walk away, but the empty stable catches my eye. A bigger Spirit slows me. I take the time as a gift, for once.

Beloved, this is exactly why I came.

This nasty regret. These cluttered motherly shoulds. Every wild day and painful memory. All the mess I shoved away then and now. These are the very reasons Jesus came near. Finally, I remember the main point.

Jesus left the comforts of heaven for a lowly stable, a gruesome cross, and everything in between. In other words, Jesus is for every elephant in the room.

With a perfectly present God, it’s easier to stay. Finally I have time for a better answer:

Oh, we’re not sure it was actually a stable, so maybe there were no animals around when Jesus was born. But if there were, there was probably a lot of mess. Maybe it was even a little wild and scary. Let’s take some time to imagine. Can you hear it? Smell it?

With animals or not, that’s exactly the kind of place Jesus comes for.

Wow. He must love us a lot, right?

Though delayed, this new answer is right on time. A bit messy, but perfect for now. I lay it all out before God and rest. It’s amazing how a lifetime of Christmases can certainly change a person, but just one Emmanuel can transform everything.

Now, who would like to place some animals in our nativity this year?

Mary’s up next. But linger here with me a while before turning the page, Friend. We’ve got time.

Much love,


P.S. Want to get caught up on this series? Click HERE.

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