Donkeys, Unicorns and Flowers at the Manger

Year A

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Nativity of the Lord – Proper I (December 24, 2016)                                   christmascandle

Nativity of the Lord – Proper II (December 24, 2016)

Nativity of the Lord – Proper III (December 24, 2016)

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 63:7-9  •  Psalm 148  •  Hebrews 2:10-18  •  Matthew 2:13-23

Merry Christmas! I hope and pray that your final preparations are going smoothly. This week I simply share with you three Christmas stories. All of them are under my consideration for telling at our Christmas Day service of Carols and Stories or our January 1st service. We’ll see which one surfaces for which service at the prompting of the Spirit.

Barbara Helen Berger’s The Donkey’s Dream is one of my favorite Christmas picture books. Using the ancient church’s traditions around Mary, the little donkey that carries her to Bethlehem dreams along the way in images and symbols that have been used for centuries to explain the role of Mary as Theotokos, the God-Bearer. The pictures depict very naturally a decidedly pregnant Mary, a careful and caring Joseph, and a gentle, curious donkey who is the first to welcome the child along with his parents. You can often find this book in your public library.

The second story is from A Unicorn at the Manger. This is a delightful collection of original tales form the late United Church of Christ minister, Roger Robbennolt. Roger had a beloved parishioner who made the church a ceramic nativity set. It began with a little ceramic unicorn as a sample of her artistry. After the initial set was made with the requisite human and animal characters she would add a new and unexpected animal each year. And Roger would tell the children a Christmas Eve story about the new addition each year. You can find this really delightful and unusual book used on Amazon and I highly recommend it. Since it’s a bit late for Amazon this week I will give you a re-telling of Roger’s first Christmas Eve storytelling with the new nativity scene and the unicorn. I am drawn to this story this year because it is a pivotal time in the history of the world when we must learn (again) to lay aside our animosities born of difference and see each other as across all race, religion, gender and class as beloved children of God 

“A Unicorn at the Manger”

By Roger L. Robbennolt            img_1550

It seems that cow was the one who ruled the stable where Jesus was born. She kept it ordered and neat and quiet. (And kosher….except for the year the pig joined the scene, but that’s another story.) All the animals obeyed her rules. The donkey had to go to the back pasture if he wanted to brey loudly. The oxen had to wipe their muddy hooves before entering to eat from the manger. The ram with the curly horns had to brush his wooly coat against the bush by the door to keep from bringing in extra dust and mud from grazing on the hillside. All the doves knew their precise place on the rafters. Even the mice knew where the approved hiding places were and when were the approved times to eat the dropped crumbs from the feed buckets.

Then came the year of the census when people came from far and wide to register in their hometown of Bethlehem. The town was bursting with visitors. The innkeeper who owned the stable was reveling in all the new business. The cow disapproved greatly of all the hustle and bustle. She kept a tight rein on the animals in the stable, but there was nothing she could do about the chaos outside from the dust and noise from travelers. She was always in a grumpy mood. The other animals tip-toed around her in the stable.

One late afternoon, just at dark, the innkeeper hurried into the stable with a travel worn young couple and their donkey. The cow rolled her eyes in horror as she heard the innkeeper say, “This is the only place I have left for the night. But you are welcome to it.” The young couple were effusive in their gratitude and soon the cow understood why. The young woman was with child and it was time for the birth. The cow, who had given birth to six strong calves over the years, knew all the signs. Assigning the stable donkey to take care of the couple’s weary, hungry donkey, she quickly ordered the other animals to stand aside. She made sure there was room for the young woman to lie down on clean straw. She kept watch and guarded her from the animals’ prying eyes while the labor progressed. Soon the young man cried out, “It’s a boy! A boy! A holy boy!”

Only when the mother resting and the baby sleeping on clean straw in the ox’s manger would the cow allow the animals to have a peek at the newborn. She gathered them around in an orderly and decorative tableau. And just as everyone was in place, a shaft of starlight came through the ventilation hole in the stable roof. It was the brightest starlight they had ever seen and it illuminated the new baby’s face. Suddenly the animals stopped their jostling and jockeying for the best place. Even the cow paused in her direction giving and her eyes grew wide. The baby’s face held…..something….that they had never seen before. This was no ordinary baby. Who was this child?

In the silence came the sound of small hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestones. And into the door of the stable there came a beast they had never seen before. A unicorn! There it stood with it’s flowing mane and dainty feet and shining horn. All the beasts gasped! For the cow it was the last straw in day of disorder and change. “Begone!”she cried. “Begone! You are not one of us, you mythological beast. There is no room for you at this manger!” Her loud proclamation startled all the animals and her shout awakened the baby. He began to cry! And nothing his mother did could soothe him.

The unicorn stood calmly in the stable door observing all the commotion. Then she trotted quietly to the manger. As she approached the starlight shone on her shining horn. The light fractured into millions of sparkling stars that glittered across the stable roof and the faces of all present. The baby ceased to cry. He gazed up at the sparkling light and stretched out his tiny hand as if to touch the light. Awed silence descended once again upon the stable. All watched as the unicorn dipped her graceful head to place her horn in the hand of the babe. And all the animals, the mother and the father sighed together in peace. The doves in the rafters cooed with joy. For once the cow was dumbstruck and could make no sound. She gave a brief nod to the unicorn who took her place in the tableau of adoration. And she didn’t even mind when the cow nudged her a bit to the left to keep the scene balanced and in order.

The final story is “The Legend of the Poinsettia.” I found it on a website titled “Why Christmas.” Click on the link and you will find the story as well as other information that links the poinsettia to Christmas.

The Legend of the Poinsettia   images

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up. ‘Pepita’, he said “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy.”

Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene.

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

Blessings on your Christmas story journey!

Jane Anne

©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only. Please tell the stories!

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