Nativity scene shows God's care for all of creation

Do you ever think it’s interesting that Jesus was born among the animals? The Christmas story from Luke chapter 2 doesn’t mention anything about specific animals, but it does say, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, NKJV).

Over the centuries, this word picture of the baby Jesus laid in a manger has led us to believe that animals were nearby. We think of donkeys, cows, sheep, and sometimes camels, and those animals are often part of our nativity scenes.

Can you imagine what it would have been like for Mary to give birth in a stable, with animals all around? I don’t know that it would have been nearly as romantic as we sometimes think. First of all, it might have been loud – certainly not the quiet, sterilized scene of today’s hospitals. It probably wasn’t the cleanest place, nor did it likely smell very nice (even the cleanest of barns tend to have the odor of animal manure, after all).

So, if we are operating under the assumption that Jesus was the Son of God (as I’ll choose to do throughout this column), why would He be born surrounded by a bunch of cows and sheep? Just bad timing, or is there something more?

For starters, there certainly is a lot of language in the Bible that indicates animals are very important to God. First, He created them. Second, He saved them from destruction during the Flood – and the covenant he establishes afterward with Noah includes every living creature (Genesis 9:10). And third, Jesus often used animals in His parables and is referred to with animal-related imagery such as the “Lamb of God” and the “Lion of Judah.”

From reading the Bible, it seems that God does not think animals are inconsequential. After creating them, He tasked Adam with the job of naming them all. It’s interesting to note that God gives Adam and Eve food from trees to eat (Genesis 2:9) – but nowhere does it mention that animals were to be killed and eaten. Not until after the Flood does God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Genesis 9:3). The downside to this is that animals will now fear and dread humans, God says.

Why does God have humans sacrifice animals in the Old Testament? Because animals are innocent and cannot sin, they can be offered as atonement for the sins that people make. If the people live righteously, they don’t need to make these sacrifices: “So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 21:9).

Christians believe that God sent His Son to earth as a fully human, fully divine being to save humans from sin through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. Jesus’ innocent blood meant that animals no longer had to be sacrificed as a payment for sins. All we have to do is understand and acknowledge what this means for us – purification from unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10).

And, it’s not only a message for humans. Animals are part of creation that Jesus spoke of when he told the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15).

So the gospel message and the story of Jesus’ birth at Christmas isn’t just a feel-good story for people – it’s important for those of us who love animals to understand what their place is in God’s plan. Do you remember hearing the part about how the lion shall lay down with the lamb? That’s from Isaiah, and it talks about how some time in the future we’ll have peace and love among all creation again (Isaiah 65:24-26).

Why was Jesus born among the animals? Because He cares about all of creation, and His promise is for us all. Merry Christmas!